Dental Care Tips for Seniors
When was the last time you thought about your teeth? We all know we should prioritize dental care, but putting our knowledge into practice can be difficult—especially as we age. From brushing and flossing to essential repair work, our teeth require attention to help us with eating and digestion, communication, and even self-esteem. While your teeth may not be at the top of your priority list, you can’t use getting old as an excuse to forget about them.
What about those with dentures? A small number of seniors (5%) have no permanent teeth, leaving most adults over 65 with a need to pay extra attention to their dental health. Even those without teeth should take care to follow the guidelines regarding oral care for older adults, which we’ll explore in this guide.
1. Do the daily work
You've heard about the "brush twice daily" and "floss daily" rules since you were young, but how important are those rules now? Very important, according to the CDC. Other rules to follow include using fluoridated toothpaste, which can help reduce the chances of tooth decay. And if you find brushing difficult or painful, consider getting a new toothbrush with softer bristles.
Brushes come in all sizes, too. If you can’t reach into the back part of your mouth easily, maybe you need a smaller brush, perhaps even one made for children. This may prevent the gag reflex some people have when trying to get into the back of their mouth.
If you can tolerate a tongue scraper, use one to reduce film on the surface of your tongue. This may also help with bad breath.
For those with dentures
If you have dentures, consider these tips:
- Always handle them carefully
- Remove and rinse after every meal or snack
- Clean your mouth after denture removal with a soft toothbrush or gauze
- Brush your dentures at least once a day
- Soak dentures every night
- Don’t allow them to dry out, which can affect their shape and performance
If you have concerns about your dentures, including how they fit, see your dental professional for advice. Never use abrasive toothpaste or cleaners that contain bleach on your dentures, including "whitening products" designed for natural teeth.
2. Watch what you eat (and drink)
It's not just important to clean your teeth after meals and snacks. You should be cautious about what you ingest, too. Wine, coffee, and acidic drinks can eat away at the enamel of your teeth, cause stains, and increase some instances of dry mouth. If you do like these drinks, be sure to drink plenty of water and increase your brushing frequency, if needed. Also, consider drinking unsweetened black and green teas, which contain natural plaque-fighting ingredients.
Hard or sticky snacks can cause wear and tear to already fragile or stressed teeth. Plus, they can damage fillings and existing dental work. Foods that may harm dentures or crowns include caramels, popcorn hulls, and hard candies.
The foods that can actually support oral health for seniors include the following:
- Low-fat dairy products, which encourage saliva production and are high in calcium, protein, and probiotics
- Leafy greens, which are packed with vitamins and nutrients while being low in calories
- Apples, carrots, and celery, which are full of fiber, encourage saliva production, and can scrape the surface of your teeth clean
- Lean meats and tofu contain protein and phosphorus, both of which are essential for good dental health
- Almonds, which are low in sugar but high in protein and calcium
As part of a balanced diet, most nutritious foods also boost dental health. When you replace sugary snacks like candy or chips with something on the above list, you’re doing something good for your teeth and possibly even your cholesterol, blood sugar, or weight.
3. Skip tobacco
While there are many reasons to stop smoking, chewing tobacco, or pipe tobacco, your teeth are often the last consideration. Tobacco can lead to dry mouth, oral sores, and damage to the gum line—as well as oral cancers. If you need help quitting, ask your physician or check with your Medicare Advantage plan policy for resources.
4. Address dry mouth concerns
Whether dry mouth is a new problem for you or something you've struggled with all your life, there may be ways to relieve this condition that you haven’t considered. After all, dry mouth can lead to advanced tooth decay, bad breath, and fungal infections. It is not a typical part of aging.
Causes of dry mouth include:
- Some medications, including those for high blood pressure and bladder control
- Some diseases, including diabetes and HIV
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments
- Nerve damage in the head or neck
How do you know if you have dry mouth? Symptoms vary but typically include a sticky feeling in the mouth, problems chewing or swallowing, dry throat, mouth sores, burning in the mouth or throat, and bad breath.
You can treat dry mouth in a number of ways, but ask your dentist or oral health professional for a diagnosis to be sure. In addition to their remedies, consider the above tips for proper senior dental care as well as the following:
- Chew sugar-free gum, such as those with xylitol
- Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake
- Use a humidifier, especially at night
Dry mouth can lead to difficulty talking and getting proper nutrition, so don’t put off getting treatment for this condition.
5. Ask for help
You may have mobility issues as you age that make it difficult to brush, floss, or prepare healthy foods that support dental health for seniors. While you may not have considered in-home or professional support services for the role of providing dental health tasks, it may be time to think about it.
Most support care professionals know the ins and outs of such services, and they can help to boost your dental care routine to the levels you expect and deserve.
6. Visit your dentist
How often should you see a dentist or dental hygienist? The CDC recommends visiting a dentist at least annually for cleanings, preventative care, and attention to any concerning symptoms. See your dentist more often if you have new symptoms of infection, loss of a sense of taste or smell, or pain or swelling in your mouth, teeth, or gums.
X-rays can help to find decay and breaks in your teeth, so expect your dentist to perform an oral x-ray at least annually. Twice-a-year cleanings can help with aggressive tartar build-up. If your budget or dental plan allows, see if you schedule these cleanings, too.
What if you can’t afford elderly dental care?
A surprising 18% of seniors have untreated decay, leaving them at risk of worsening dental deterioration and infections. There are many reasons someone may skip seeing their dental health professional, including fear, transportation or mobility issues, or even a lack of means.
While Original Medicare doesn't typically cover dental health needs, Medicare Advantage plans like KelseyCare Advantage have coverage to help support ongoing dental visits. Medicare Advantage typically covers preventative care, with supplemental dental coverage available for additional and restorative care.
Bottom line on oral health care for seniors
You may have let a lot of things slide as you age, especially if you’re worrying more about what you consider "major" health concerns, like your blood pressure or diabetes. After reading this guide, however, you should know the answer to the question, "Why is oral care important in the elderly?" It’s because your teeth, gums, and mouth are connected to many other health issues, which is why you should take your oral health seriously. If you have put off any of the items in this article, now is the time to take action and prioritize dental health.
Want to know how KelseyCare Advantage can help with your oral health? Learn more about our preventative dental coverage today!