Maintaining good oral health is crucial at every stage of life. However, it becomes even more crucial as we age. Seniors face unique oral care challenges due to factors such as age-related changes in the mouth, the use of medications, and an increased risk of certain oral health issues. Neglecting oral health can have far-reaching consequences, impacting the mouth, well-being, and quality of life.
Fortunately, family dentistry in Greenville, SC, can provide personalized care, preventive measures, and treatments to ensure optimal oral health in the golden years.
Oral Health Challenges Older Adults Face
Seniors are more prone to tooth decay due to various factors. Dry mouth, a common side effect of aging and certain medications, reduces saliva flow. Since saliva helps neutralize acids and wash away food particles, a lack of saliva increases the risk of tooth decay. Additionally, older adults may have exposed tooth roots due to gum recession, making them more vulnerable to decay.
To combat tooth decay, seniors must:
- Practice good oral hygiene to remove plaque and food particles.
- Limit sugary foods and drinks.
- Use fluoride mouthwash or dental varnishes.
- Ensure regular dental check-ups and cleanings.
Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is a bacterial infection that affects the gums and bones supporting the teeth. It’s more common among seniors due to reduced immune function, medications that affect gum health, and accumulated damage over time. Furthermore, symptoms of gum disease include red, swollen, or bleeding gums, bad breath, receding gums, and loose teeth.
To prevent gum disease, seniors must:
- Maintain proper oral hygiene.
- Quit smoking.
- Get regular dental cleanings.
- Use antimicrobial mouth rinses.
- Treat underlying health conditions like diabetes.
Tooth loss can occur in seniors due to untreated tooth decay, gum disease, and general wear and tear on the teeth over time. Missing teeth can impact the ability to chew properly, leading to poor nutrition. It may also affect speech and self-confidence.
Seniors dealing with tooth loss must do the following:
- Consider restorative options like dental implants, bridges, or dentures.
- Maintain good oral hygiene.
- Ensure proper denture care.
- Visit the family dentist regularly for routine examinations.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common condition among seniors. It can result from aging, certain medications (such as those for high blood pressure or depression), and medical conditions. Reduced saliva flow increases the risk of tooth decay, as saliva helps rinse away food particles and neutralize acids.
To alleviate dry mouth, older adults must:
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Chew sugar-free gum or use lozenges to stimulate saliva flow.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
- Talk to a healthcare professional about medication adjustments.
The risk of oral cancer increases with age. Tobacco and alcohol use, sun exposure (lip cancer), and the human papillomavirus (HPV) are common risk factors.
For these reasons, it’s best for seniors to:
- See their family dentist for oral cancer screenings.
- Be aware of any changes in the mouth, including sores, red or white patches, or unusual lumps, and report them to a dentist promptly.
- Avoid tobacco use and alcohol consumption.
- Use a lip balm with SPF, and wear hats or sun umbrellas to protect lips from sun exposure.
Many seniors wear dentures or removable prosthetic teeth. However, ill-fitting dentures can cause discomfort, difficulty chewing and speaking, and irritation of the gums.
To avoid denture-related issues, seniors must:
- Ensure dentures fit well and are regularly adjusted by the dentist to prevent discomfort and sores.
- Clean dentures thoroughly and maintain good oral hygiene to prevent infections and irritation.
- Visit the dentist for denture check-ups, adjustments, and necessary repairs.
Tooth sensitivity can worsen with age. Receding gums can expose the tooth roots, which aren’t protected by enamel like the crown of the tooth. This exposure can increase sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks.
Seniors can manage tooth sensitivity by doing the following:
- Use desensitizing toothpaste to help block sensations of sensitivity.
- Brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
- Use a fluoride rinse or gel as directed by the family dentist to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce sensitivity.
- Avoid acidic foods and drinks that make teeth more sensitive by eroding the enamel.
- Wear a nightguard if tooth sensitivity is related to teeth grinding or clenching.
- Avoid teeth whitening products that cause temporary sensitivity.
As gums recede, the tooth roots become exposed. Unlike the enamel-covered crown, the roots have a softer outer layer called cementum, making them more prone to decay.
To reduce or avoid root decay, older people must:
- Practice thorough oral hygiene.
- Floss daily.
- Use fluoride products.
- Limit sugary and acidic foods.
- Hydrate to stimulate saliva flow.
- Address dry mouth.
- Ensure regular dental check-ups.
- Treat underlying health conditions.