Maintaining a Healthy Smile in the Golden Years

Why Dental Care Is Important to Seniors – 

One of the arguments our Dentists and Hygienists hear from some of our senior patients is ‘Why should I invest in getting dental treatments at this age?‘ While some may think this is a thrifty decision, neglecting needed dental care today will lead to more costly, painful and complicated issues sooner than you think. Additionally, don’t we all, no matter what our age, deserve a decent quality of life? Of course we do.  Healthy teeth and gums are just one of the many things that lead to a better quality of life at every age.

Being able to chew properly and eat healthy foods leads to overall improved wellness. Being able to smile with confidence can make you feel happier on the inside. Having a worry free smile allows you to stay in the moment and focus on the truly joyful things in life; like a grandchild’s birthday party, sporting events or just spending time with loved ones. 

The advice for maintaining healthy teeth and gums for older adults is pretty much the same as it is for any age:
–  Brush 2 x a day
–  Floss
–  Dental checkups as per your dentists recommended schedule.  

There are however, some dental concerns that are specific to older adults: 

Increased risk of cavities – You may have thought your cavity prone years were long over but as we age our risk for cavities increases, mainly due to a condition called dry mouth. Dry mouth is caused by a reduced production of saliva which is a side effect of the  medications many older adults are prescribed. It is important to discuss with your dentist any medications you may be taking.

Here are a few recommendations to help relieve dry mouth and prevent cavities. Be sure to discuss with your dentist for more information.
–  Sip water throughout the day. Carry a water bottle with you.
–  Chew sugar free gum, especially gum with xylitol. Chewing gum helps increase saliva production and xylitol has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria and may help remineralize (replace depleted mineral content) your teeth. 
–  Your dentist may recommend a high fluoride toothpaste.

Gum DiseaseGum disease can develop at any age, however there may be considerations with older adults that put them at a higher risk. Gum disease is caused by bacteria in the mouth as a result of poor brushing.  It is often painless until the advanced stages of the disease, referred to as periodontal disease.   When it progresses to this point, if left untreated, can destroy the gums and bone and lead to tooth loss. And while more research is needed, many studies indicate there is an association between gum disease and several serious health conditions. 

Dentures – Even if you are wearing dentures it is still important to see your dentist regularly. He or she will check for proper fitting. They will also check your gums for any evidence of fungal infection which is a result of improper denture care.

Diminished Sense of Taste – It is a little known fact that as we age our sense of taste weakens. There are several theories as to why this happens including; a loss of smell, loss of taste buds, prescription medicines, lifetime of smoking, etc. The problem is, often, healthy foods become less appealing and foods that have an excessive amount of sugar or salt become more appealing. Which I’m sure you can see where this is headed; too much sugar + poor brushing = tooth decay. So now you know, there may be a medical reason for Grandma’s sweet tooth.

Medical Conditions – Medical conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease can all have an impact on dental health. It is important to discuss medical conditions with your dentist and hygienist so they can plan your treatment to meet your specific needs.   Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to bacterial infections, putting the gums at risk. If you have diabetes it is particularly important to be vigilant about brushing 2 x a day, flossing and seeing your dentist at the recommended schedule.

Diseases such as arthritis, Parkinson’s and others that affect muscle control may make it difficult to hold and manipulate the brush properly for effective brushing. If this seems to be an issue for you, our dentists recommend trying an electric toothbrush.  Other solutions include cutting a hole in a tennis ball and attaching the toothbrush handle to the ball or attaching a bicycle handle to the toothbrush. 

Here at Dentistry by Design we are dedicated to helping you maintain healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime, that means your entire life. We understand the issues, concerns and dental care needs of those 60 and older are different than younger patients and we are here to address those needs. We invite you to call our office today to set up your hygiene appointment, especially if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while. 

For further reading on dental care at 60+ see the following resources: