Changes that occur with age can lead to challenges in maintaining a healthy mouth and teeth. Here are some tips for coping with these changes.
Basic home care is still important to keep teeth and gums healthy. Make sure you brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Floss once a day.
Changes to gums
Receding gums can cause teeth to can become sensitive. Fluoride rinses can decrease this sensitivity. They also can help to prevent decay on the crowns and exposed roots of teeth.
Dry mouth is usually a side effect of medicine. Saliva helps keep your mouth clean and prevent decay. Here’s what you can do to protect your teeth:
- Talk to your dentist or doctor about saliva supplements.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Sip water throughout the day
- Suck on sugar-free hard candy or ice chips.
- Ask your doctor if you can use another medicine that may not cause dry mouth. Use over-the-counter fluoride rinses to strengthen your teeth.
- Make sure that people in your dentist’s office know about your hearing loss.
- If you use a hearing aid, wear it to your dental appointments. Turn it down if the sound of dental instruments bothers you.
- If you read lips or have partial hearing loss, ask your dentist and other dental office staff to face you and remove their masks when they speak. Ask them to speak slowly and clearly, and turn off any background noise.
- If you use sign language, arrange for an interpreter to come to the dental appointment with you.
- Make sure that people in your dentist’s office know about your vision problem.
- Ask that someone guide you from the waiting area to the dental chair.
- Ask for instructions to be written in bold, large print. Ask someone to read them to you before you leave.
Pain and movement problems
If you’re having trouble brushing and flossing, special devices may help. These include:
- Toothbrushes with enlarged handles
- Electric toothbrushes
- Devices to clean between teeth (floss, special brushes)
- Devices that squirt water into the mouth
Ask your dentist or dental hygienist for advice if you are not sure which device would work best for you.
Chewing and swallowing problems
Difficulty chewing or swallowing can lead to poor nutrition. These suggestions may help.
- Chop, grind or puree meats.
- Use canned, sugar-free fruits and vegetables.
- Cook fresh vegetables to make them softer.
- Eat softer breads and pasta.
- Ask a registered dietician for advice on maintaining a healthy diet that takes into account your swallowing issues.
- Talk to your dentist about any difficulties you have when chewing. The dentist may be able to help if the problems are caused by loose, decayed or missing teeth or other oral health issues.
Dental visits still matter
One of the keys to keeping teeth for a lifetime is to visit a dentist regularly. But many older people don’t.
Toothaches, bleeding gums, loose teeth and mouth pain are not just part of getting older. In fact, these can be signs of gum disease, or other problems. Not treating them can lead to tooth loss and affect eating. You may not get the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Regular dental visits can help:
- Treat dry mouth, which increases your risk of cavities
- Keep dentures in good condition and fitting properly
- Detect oral cancer early
- Detect tooth decay at an early stage so you can avoid major dental work or tooth loss