senior woman with a dentist

Your smile can be a major factor not only of your self-image, but also of your comfort during everyday tasks. When it comes to eating the foods you enjoy and living pain free, you want to ensure that your mouth and teeth are well cared for as you age. Seniors are more prone to oral health problems, which makes it all the more important for them to understand how to best care for their mouth. Below are a few of the most common oral health problems faced by seniors and a few suggestions for how to prevent and treat them:

Dry mouth

A side effect of many medications is dry mouth, which occurs when your mouth doesn’t have enough saliva to remain wet. Dry mouth can make eating and swallowing difficult, and since saliva acts as a cleanser for your mouth, dry mouth also leaves teeth vulnerable to decay and infections. To combat dry mouth, many dentists recommend sugar-free gum or even artificial saliva. If you drink alcohol, you should drink in moderation and avoid smoking and caffeine, which can contribute to drying.

Tooth decay

Your teeth are covered by a hard protective outer layer called enamel. Cavities form when the bacteria in plaque, a clear sticky substance that forms on your teeth, makes acids that eat away at the enamel. As the acid eats the enamel it forms small holes in the tooth, or tooth decay. According to the NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research), “Seniors 65 and older have an average 9.24 decayed or missing permanent teeth and 43.02 decayed and missing permanent surfaces.” The prevalence of this problem makes treatment all the more important. You can prevent decay by using a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride re-mineralizes your teeth and repairs your enamel, making the teeth more resistant to acid, plaque, and sugar. To help further prevent decay, dentists may also give you a fluoride treatment, fluoride gel, or mouthwash to kill bacteria and fortify the teeth.

Gum disease

Gum disease is responsible for about 70 percent of adult tooth loss. It occurs when plaque hardens on the tooth to form tartar. The bacteria in tartar release toxins which infect and ultimately destroy the fibers holding the tooth to the gums. As the hold between the gums and tooth begins to loosen, bacteria fill the gaps and eventually make way to the bone, at which point the tooth must be removed. To prevent gum disease, be sure to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and to floss at least once a day. If arthritis or other issues make these activities difficult, you may want to buy an electric toothbrush or flosser. Quitting smoking and eating a well-balanced diet can also help reduce your risk for gum disease.

Oral cancer

According to the ACS (American Cancer Society), over half of all oral cancer patients are 65 or older. Oral cancer can cause difficulty in chewing, speaking, and moving your jaw. Teeth may shift or you may find a sore that bleeds easily and won’t heal. You may also notice pain or tenderness, a small rough lump in your mouth, or changing color in your mouth. Preventing oral cancer can start by quitting smoking and drinking moderately. 90% of oral cancer patients use tobacco, and 75% drink alcohol frequently. Using lip balm with sunscreen can also help to protect your lips from damaging rays.

 

Oral health should be a major concern at any age, and fortunately most oral health problems are preventable. Sticking to the basics of brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits should ensure that you enjoy a healthy smile at all ages.