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Dental Care for Older Adults: 101

Your needs change as you age. Dental care is no exception.

Changing Needs

It's no secret that your body changes as you get older. Risk factors increase for many medical issues and may include those associated with numerous types of cancer, osteoporosis, and mental clarity. With all of these changes, it should be no surprise that changes also occur in the mouth.

As you age, you may be at increased risk for some oral conditions or may notice changes in your mouth.

  • Dry Mouth - Whether naturally occurring due to hormonal changes or as a medication side effect, dry mouth can increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease, fungal infections, difficulty speaking/eating, or issues wearing dentures.
  • Attrition - This natural wearing-down of tooth enamel from using your teeth for basic functions, like eating, can increase the risk of tooth decay.
  • Tooth Discoloration - Though naturally-occurring attrition can account for some discoloration and changes to the dentin inside the teeth, teeth may also appear stained due to food, drink, and tobacco usage.
  • Diseases - The risks of developing thrush (fungal infection) and oral cancers increases with age.
  • Gum Recession - Gums may naturally recede with age, exposing more of the tooth root, which increases the risk of cavities on the roots of your teeth.
  • Reduced Sense of Taste - this can be caused by medications or dentures.
  • Gum Disease - This is most frequently caused by plaque buildup; however, you may also be more likely to develop gum disease if you have diabetes or cancer.
  • Jaw Misalignment - This is most typical if teeth are lost/extracted, and the gaps are not filled with a partial, bridge, or implant, which allows the remaining teeth to drift.
  • Bone Density Loss - The risk of osteoporosis increases with age (especially post-menopause), and with it, decreased bone density. Decreased bone density may cause teeth to become loose.

What Can Be Done to Maintain Oral Health?

Regardless of age, specific habits can help to maintain good oral hygiene:

  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste - Brush for at least two minutes, twice a day.
  • Floss at least once daily - Use a floss holder, floss pics or other tools recommended by your dentist if you have difficulties flossing with your hands.
  • Visit the dentist regularly - Visits should be every six months, unless otherwise directed by the dentist.
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Avoid all tobacco products, e-cigarettes, and vaping.
  • Stay hydrated - Drinking water regularly throughout the day can help combat dry mouth.
  • Use topical fluoride products - In addition to drinking fluoridated water, use an ADA-approved fluoridated toothpaste and/or mouthwash if advised by your dentist. Fluoride helps prevent decay by re-mineralizing tooth enamel that has been weakened due to naturally occurring acids in the mouth.
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash - This will help kill bacteria in the mouth, reducing plaque buildup.

Dentures and Partials

False teeth like dentures or partials require some special care to maintain good overall and oral health. For example:

  • Dentures should be left out of the mouth for at least 6 hours per day.
  • Avoid letting the denture/partial dry-out by soaking them in warm (not hot!) water and/or denture cleaning product overnight.
  • Allow any gum sores to heal before putting the denture/partial back in your mouth.
  • Those who wear dentures or partials should also:

    • Clean the denture/partial daily, rinsing away food particles and gently brushing all surfaces of the denture/partial with a special denture brush or soft-bristled toothbrush.
    • Gently brush your teeth, gums, tongue, and roof of your mouth before putting in the denture/partial.
    • Visit the dentist regularly for exams, to address any adjustments that may be needed to fix ill-fitting dentures/partials, or to replace the denture/partial as needed (about every five years).

    Dental Care and Arthritis

    Individuals diagnosed with arthritis may find dental care particularly challenging. Using toothbrushes, floss holders and other dental products that are specially designed can provide solutions if you have difficulty gripping or holding standard handles. You can also try wrapping the handle of a manual toothbrush with a sponge or push the handle through a foam ball to help improve your grip.

    Electric toothbrushes can also be helpful, because their handles tend to be thicker and easier to grip. They do most of the brushing for you and can be beneficial if you have limited shoulder mobility.

    Oral Care and Insurance

    If you are planning on visiting a new dentist, speak with someone at the office to request any forms that could be helpful for you to complete in advance. Request any X-rays from your previous dentist to be transferred to the new office.

    You may also wish to confirm with BCBS FEP Dental that your new dentist is in network to ensure that the maximum insurance benefit will be paid for your services. Additionally, it is recommended that you verify your benefits prior to starting any planned dental work to ensure coverage.

    When you arrive at the dental office, provide them with copies of both your medical and dental insurance ID cards.

    Note: The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.