Growing older brings with it a variety of struggles, and one of them is oral health care. Elderly people sometimes face difficulties taking care of their teeth and gums, and aging mouths can develop problems. In fact, seniors often lose their teeth because they are unable to properly care for them or they neglect getting professional help.
Why is dental care hard for seniors?
Some of the main reasons that the elderly have trouble with oral care include:
- Arthritis or limited ability to manipulate and control their hands and arms, which can make brushing and flossing difficult.
- Dementia or memory lapses that can cause seniors to forget to care for their teeth and gums.
- Denture wearers may be inexperienced in proper care or neglect good cleaning practices.
How can dental care for seniors be improved?
Caregivers can help the elderly learn new techniques to preserve their oral health. Here are some useful tips to benefit seniors in their goal of a healthy mouth:
- Those with arthritis or other limiting conditions should try adaptations to make dental care easier. For example, attach a bicycle grip or wrap a washcloth around a toothbrush handle for easier grasping.
- Try an electric toothbrush, which may be easier to control than a manual one. They are also great for removing plaque and stimulating gums.
- Use floss holders or cleaners for between the teeth, which are available at drugstores to aid in dental cleaning.
- Ask the dentist about prescription mouthwashes or fluoride rinses to supplement regular brushing and flossing. These additions can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
- Ensure only products approved for dentures, such as denture powder or paste, are used for cleaning the appliances. Household cleaners can damage dentures.
- Create a chart to be placed near the sink area to check off each time dental hygiene tasks are performed, so that it’s easier for the elderly person to keep track of dental care.
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Advancing age brings with it unique considerations for oral health. Seniors are at higher risk for a variety of dental problems mostly related to the aging process, medication side effects, and inability to properly care for their teeth and gums. Therefore, it’s vital that seniors regularly visit their dentist and learn how to combat oral health problems so that they can keep their mouth healthy as long as possible.
Some of the risks that seniors face include:
• Gum disease—this is caused by plaque buildup, and worsened by poor hygiene, tobacco use, ill-fitting dentures, poor nutrition, and some diseases.
• Tooth loss – gum disease is a primary cause of tooth loss.
• Uneven jawbone – this can result from tooth loss.
• Dry mouth – reduced saliva production is related to medication side effects, cancer treatments, and certain diseases.
• Thrush – immune system issues can lead to the overgrowth of fungus in the mouth.
• Tooth sensitivity – tooth decay can cause exposure of the tooth’s root, which leads to increased sensitivity.
• Darkened teeth – changes in the dentin from age can darken teeth, as well as a lifetime of stain-causing foods and drinks.
• Stomatitis – dentures can cause this inflammation of the tissues under a denture.
Another common problem that seniors experience is trouble performing their dental care routine. Some medical conditions like arthritis can make brushing and flossing difficult. Products are available to assist seniors with these tasks, such as special toothbrushes and oral irrigators. It’s also important to be able to recognize the warning signs of problems, and to see the dentist if any of those occur like pain, mouth sores, swelling, loose teeth, and difficulty chewing or swallowing. Additionally, seniors should see their dentist for checkups every six months just to make sure problems aren’t arising that haven’t been noticed before.
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If you’ve got the idea that everyone eventually loses their teeth due to the aging process, you’ve got it wrong. It’s true that your mouth changes as you age, but it’s not inevitable that you’ll lose your teeth. If properly cared for, you can keep your teeth your whole life. Let’s learn how to accomplish the goal of healthy teeth that last a lifetime.
Visit the dentist
As you age, the nerves inside your teeth decrease. This leaves your teeth less sensitive to the signs of cavities. This is one reason regular dental checkups are so important for seniors, so that tooth decay or other problems can be diagnosed at an early stage.
Dentists suggest drinking tap water instead of bottled water, at least some of the time. Most tap water contains fluoride, which helps prevent tooth decay for people of all ages. Using a fluoride mouth rinse may also be helpful, and certainly using fluoride toothpaste is advised.
Practice good hygiene
Brush at least twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush, preferably after each meal. Electric toothbrushes may also be helpful, especially for seniors who sometimes have difficulty using objects like a toothbrush. Also, floss every day to remove debris and plaque between your teeth.
Care for dentures
If you wear partial or full dentures, clean them daily. Remove them from your mouth for at least four hours a day; most patients remove them at night.
Tobacco use increases your risk for oral and lung cancers, as well as gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
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