Dental Care for Older Adults

Why is dental care important?

Older adults need to see a dentist regularly because:

  • As you get older, your mouth may make less saliva, which can lead to tooth decay.
  • Medicines to treat problems such as Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol can also cause your mouth to be drier.
  • Your gums shrink and expose your teeth to possible infection or decay. Changes in your gums can also change the way dentures fit.
  • Your risk of oral cancer is higher.

Brushing

Teeth can last a lifetime if you take care of them. The best thing you can do is brush your teeth. Brush your teeth correctly for at least 2 minutes twice a day. The most important time to brush is before you go to bed at night. Brushing after each meal is best. Use a soft brush and replace it every 3 months or when it shows wear. Electric toothbrushes can be very helpful if you have arthritis.

Pay attention to the gum line when you brush. Gently brush your gum tissue and tongue to refresh your breath and remove bacteria.

Talk with your dentist if you have pain or other problems with brushing your teeth.

Flossing

Flossing is a way to remove food and plaque from between the teeth, an area the toothbrush cannot reach. Plaque is a sticky material that builds up on your teeth. It is made of mucus, saliva, food particles, acids, and bacteria. If it’s not removed with daily brushing and flossing, plaque can lead to cavities, a hard buildup called tartar, and gum disease.

When you floss:

  • Cut off about 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around a finger of one hand. Wind the rest around a finger of your other hand, to take up the floss as you use it.
  • Gently pull the floss between 2 of your teeth.
  • Curve it into a C-shape against one tooth.
  • Holding the floss tightly against the tooth, move it up and down, scraping the side of the tooth and just below the gum line. Don’t push too hard on your gums
  • Use a fresh section of floss and repeat for each tooth. Not using a fresh section of floss can spread bacteria and could cause a gum infection.
  • Remember to floss the backs of your back teeth too.

If you have bleeding from your gums for more than 5 days, it is a sign that something is not healthy. It should be checked by your dentist.

Toothpaste and mouthwash

Look for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of acceptance when you buy a dental product. This seal means that the product is safe and does what it says it will do.

Always buy toothpastes with fluoride. The fluoride helps prevent cavities. You can buy toothpastes with ingredients to control tartar, whiten teeth, or help teeth be less sensitive.

Mouthwashes can help to freshen bad breath, control plaque, and protect your teeth against decay. Look for a mouthwash that is alcohol free. Mouthwashes that contain alcohol may dry out your mouth and worsen pain or sores in your mouth.

Dentures

If you wear dentures, take them out to clean them. You may want to take them out at bedtime, let them soak in warm (not hot) water or a denture-cleansing solution overnight, and then brush them in the morning. Always soak them if they are out of your mouth because dry dentures may get very brittle or they may change shape and not fit well.

Always use a denture brush that will reach all parts of the dentures. A regular toothbrush will not do the job. Denture paste removes stains better than soap, toothpaste, or baking soda to clean dentures. Never use household cleansers on your dentures. It’s a good idea to brush your dentures over a wash basin half full of water. If they slip from your fingers, they are less likely to crack if they land in water.

While your dentures are out of your mouth, clean your tongue, gums, and the roof of your mouth with a soft toothbrush and then rinse your mouth.

Over time, your gums can shrink a little and your dentures may no longer fit as well as they used to. Gaining or losing 5 pounds or more can affect the way your dentures fit. A loose denture can irritate your gums, destroy bone, or make it hard for you to chew food well. Your dentist may want to adjust or replace your denture or may advise you to use a denture adhesive to help keep your dentures in place.

Regular dental checkups

Have regular dental checkups as often as recommended by your dentist. During your checkup, your dentist or dental hygienist will check your teeth for cavities and remove plaque. Your dentist will also check your gums for infection or inflammation and the rest of your mouth for signs of cancer.

If you have red or white spots or other sores in the mouth that do not go away within 2 weeks, see your dentist. Mouth sores that do not go away can be an early sign of oral cancer.

Dental checkups are recommended, even if you have full dentures.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-21
Last reviewed: 2015-01-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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