As we age, we need to monitor our bodies far differently than when we were younger. This includes our dental hygiene. Prescription medications can have a big effect on dental health. They can lead to dry mouth which can lead to increased tooth decay. Below you will find some great dental hygiene tips to navigate through the senior years.
Common Dental Issues For Seniors
Certain dental health problems are more common in seniors, they include the following:
1) Tooth Decay. Cavities are caused by plaque bacteria which breakdown the enamel and cause holes in the teeth. Soft diet, dry mouth, limited dexterity, a large number of crowns and fillings to clean around, and high sugars or acids in your diet will increase your chances of decay.
2) Periodontal Disease. Seniors are at an increased risk of periodontal disease. This occurs when plaque builds up beneath your gum line causing inflammation of the tissues and eventually bone loss if allowed to progress. Certain medications cause the gums to swell and bleed and make it more difficult to remove plaque. This may cause gum recession and periodontal disease.
3) Root Cavities. The roots of the teeth can also decay. Once gums recede, the unprotected root surface is very easy for the plaque bacteria to attack. With no enamel to protect it, the cavity can progress rapidly to the nerve of the tooth.
4) Tooth Sensitivity. As we get older, our gums may recede, exposing root surfaces. The roots have nerve endings close to the surface which can become increasingly sensitive to hot, cold, brushing, and sweets. If you experience sensitivity, try a sensitivity toothpaste (like Colgate Sensitive Pro-Health) . If the problem persists, see your dentist, as the sensitivity may be an indication of a more serious condition, such as a cavity or a cracked or fractured tooth.
5) Dry mouth or Xerostomia. Dry mouth is a common condition in the senior population and one that may be caused by medications or certain medical disorders (like radiation therapy for cancer). If this condition is left untreated, it can cause damage to your teeth. Dry mouth occurs when there is reduced salivary flow. Plaque tends to build up when the mouth is dry, putting you at an increased risk for cavities. Your dentist can recommend multiple methods to restore moisture in your mouth, as well as treatments or medications to help prevent the development of cavities. Two products I recommend are Biotene and Listerine Zero.
6) Denture Issues. Many older people wear dentures. If they are not properly cared for, they can cause dental health problems, especially fungal infections such as yeast. A sign of a yeast infection is bright red irritated tissue, itchiness, burning, or a white creamy build up on oral tissues or denture. Just because you have dentures does not mean you do not need a dental examination. You should have an annual check of your denture fit, oral tissues, and oral cancer screening. As well as a jaw x-ray every five years to detect growth or changes in the bone.
Senior Dental Hygiene Tips
-Maintain Regular Brushing. The recommended time to brush is at least 2 minutes. For many of us, we never reach the 2 minute mark at any of our tooth brushing sessions. If you feel like you are having trouble keeping to 2 minute deadline think about the use of a timer or an electric toothbrush that shuts off after 2 minutes of use.
-Use A Plaque Disclosing Solution. This solution allows the patient to see visually if they left any plaque behind and work on areas they are missing. It is a great tool and easy to visualize the areas you need improvement on.
-Maintain Regular Dental Visits. This goes for the old and the young. Maintaining regular dental visits can catch small problems before they become bigger issues. This will save you time and money and possibly pain down the road.
-Add A Mouthwash Rinse To Your Dental Hygiene Protocol. It is a good idea to use an oral rinse that does not contain alcohol. As we get older, our teeth can become sensitive, alcohol rinses can be uncomfortable to use for those with sensitive teeth.
-Floss Daily. Flossing your teeth can help prevent plaque from building up between teeth. Flossing should be done at least once a day. We also recommend the use of floss mate. A variety of companies (Butler GUM floss mate or REACH access flosser), make these products and are easily found at the local drug store. These products work well in patients with minimal or reduced dexterity.
-Quite Smoking. In addition to increasing your risk of many systemic diseases, smoking can increase your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer. There are a variety of methods available to quit to make it as painless a possible.
There are many health challenges to deal with as we age, but maintaining good oral hygiene and monitoring to your dental health can keep your smile sparkling for many years to come.