Maintaining wellness as a senior is about more than just eating well, exercising daily and seeing your physician regularly. Oral care is also essential. As we get older, our teeth and gums naturally become less healthy. A lifetime of chewing, biting and gnashing leads to a wearing away of the enamel, and the roots of the teeth become more visible due to acid decay of the gums. You may notice that your teeth have become darker, your mouth is drier, you have a decreased sense of taste and you may have even lost some permanent teeth.
Aside from unsightly physical signs of poor dental health, seniors are also at increased risk of more serious oral health problems. For instance, many older adults develop gum disease, which is caused by plaque buildup and worsened due to age-related diseases such as diabetes. The elderly can also suffer from thrush, a condition that occurs when the immune system grows fungus in the mouth due to overcompensating for the effects of certain medications or diseases. Additionally, people who wear dentures have a whole separate issue to worry about – stomatitis, a growth of fungus caused by ill-fitting dentures.
Brush regularly and correctly
This should be a rule for people of all ages – all people should brush their teeth at least twice each day with a toothpaste containing fluoride. Use a soft-bristled brush to avoid excessive wear of the enamel, and select one with a size and shape that fits your mouth and allows you to easily reach each crevice and corner. You should replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or more regularly if the bristles begin to fray.
There's also a proper technique for brushing. The American Dental Association explains that the toothbrush should be placed at a 45-degree angle to the gums, and you should move the brush gently back and forth in strokes just long enough to cover each tooth. Be sure to brush the outer, inner and chewing surfaces of your teeth. Don't forget to brush your tongue and the backsides of your molars.
If poor eyesight, arthritis or another age-related condition makes its difficult to effectively clean your teeth, you might consider investing in an electric toothbrush. It can not only make your daily routine easier, but an automatic toothbrush can even remove more plaque and debris than a manual one. Additionally, many utilize sonic technology that can stimulate and improve the health of your gums.
Floss every day
Flossing is one of the most commonly neglected oral care activities, but it's essential for keeping your teeth and gums healthy. People often believe that, since food doesn't usually get stuck between their teeth, there's no reason to floss. But the task is about more than just uprooting bits of corn and spinach – it also gets rid of bacteria that, if left too long, can lead to tooth decay and gingivitis. In fact, many dentists agree that it's even more important to floss every day than to brush. The reasoning behind this is that flossing allows you to reach parts of the mouth that a toothbrush can't, removing food particles, tartar and plaque from areas that are most affected by them. The activity has even been clinically linked to reduced risk of diabetes, respiratory illness and heart disease.
But there is a right way to floss. The American Dental Association recommends this process:
- Take a piece of floss about 18 inches long and wind it around one of your middle fingers, then wind the rest around your other middle finger, leaving a small gap in the center to insert between your teeth.
- Use your thumbs and forefingers to hold the floss taut and gently slip the string between two teeth.
- Curve the floss against the sides of each tooth so it forms a "C" shape, gently rubbing it up and down to scrape away debris and bacteria.
- Repeat between each tooth and behind your back molars.
See your dentist regularly
No matter your age, you should see a dentist at least twice each year. If you suffer from a medical condition like diabetes or gum disease, your dentist may suggest that you get checkups more often, such as every three or four months. Seeing an oral health care professional on a regular basis is not just about getting cleanings or having your cavities filled – dentists can detect other health issues that require medical attention for your overall wellness. For example, inflamed, bleeding gums and persistent bad breath can be an indicator of diabetes.
In cases where you require oral care as part of a medical procedure or treatment for a condition, Medicare dental coverage may take care of part of the cost of your dental visit; however, the national health care program does not provide coverage for regular checkups or general dental work.