You are never too old to have healthy teeth and gums. The health of your mouth has a significant impact on the rest of your physical health which means that good oral health is a must for maintaining overall health and while this is true for all ages, it is even more so for the elderly. Besides, we only have one set of permanent teeth. To ensure your teeth last a lifetime, taking care of them by observing good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist regularly for professional dental checkups and cleaning is critical.
As age-related issues that affect dental health kick in, seniors need proper dental care to avoid serious complications. Unfortunately, visits to the dental office decline with increase in age and delay of dental treatment due to financial constraints and lack of insurance become more prevalent. In Alberta, however, dental coverage for low income seniors is available through government sponsored benefit programs. Please check Seniors Insurance for more details.
Aging puts seniors at risk for a host of oral health issues such as dry mouth, tooth decay and gum disease. Solutions are available,
- Darkened teeth. Seniors can expect changes to dentin, the bone-like tissue that underlies the tooth enamel and a lifetime of stain-causing food and drink to finally show their teeth’s age. Darkened teeth can also be caused by thinning of the outer enamel layer that lets the darker yellower dentin show through.
- Dry mouth. Elderly often suffer from dry mouth caused by reduced flow of saliva which is aggravated by the medications many of the elderly take. Dry mouth increases the propensity for tooth decay and gum disease.
- Root decay. Tooth roots which do not have any enamel to protect them are exposed to decay causing acids when the gum tissue recedes from the tooth, a common occurrence among the older adults
- Sensitivity. Over time, gums may recede, exposing tooth. This exposed area of the tooth, not secured by enamel is sensitive to pain caused by consumption of hot or cold beverages and food.
- Gum disease is a serious problem among the elderly as, if untreated, can lead to tooth loss. It is caused by plaque and made worse by poor hygiene, especially food being left in teeth use of tobacco products, poor-fitting bridges and dentures, poor diets, and certain diseases, such as anemia, cancer, and diabetes. With gum disease, your false teeth will not fit well over gums that are sore, swollen or bleeding and your partial dentures (or removable dentures) will not be held firmly in place if your natural teeth and gums are not strong.
- Tooth loss. Gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss.
- Denture-induced stomatitis. Inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture can be caused by Ill-fitting dentures, poor dental hygiene, or a buildup of the fungus Candida albicans
- Thrush. Overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans in the mouth can be triggered by diseases or drugs that affect the immune system
- Dry mouth. Special mouth rinses and tooth pastes can alleviate the issue and restore comfort and health to the mouth.
- Tooth decay, Gum disease and Tooth loss. Daily brushing and flossing can help maintain good oral health and prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. There are seniors whose health prevents them from practicing good dental hygiene. For these individuals, especially those who have dexterity issues, a use of electric brush is recommended for brushing and dental floss wands for flossing and getting to the back teeth. To finish off, rinse the mouth with antibacterial rinse. Antibacterial mouth rinse can reduce bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease.
- Sensitivity. Using an anti-sensitivity toothpaste may help but if the problem persists, you should seek the advice of your dentist.
- Denture-induced stomatitis. Taking care of your dentures, just as one would natural teeth is important to avoid fungal infection. Dentures need to be cleaned everyday as plaque and tartar builds up on the dentures. Take them out every night. Brush your teeth and gums carefully, using a soft toothbrush. Soak the dentures overnight in a special dentures cleanser, in warm water, or in a mix of warm water and vinegar (half and half). If your denture has metal clasps, use warm water only for soaking. Soaking will loosen plaque and tartar. They will then come off more easily when you brush.
As you age, it becomes crucial to visit the dentist regularly to ensure that your healthy teeth stay that way. Every 6 months you will want to schedule a regular cleaning and checkup, and to closely follow your dentist’s advice. This is especially crucial if you have already started losing teeth or are using dentures. Your dentist will check for loose teeth, and for bumps or lumps that might lead to oral cancer. They should also check with you about changes to your mouth like diminished taste or changes in colour.