Healthy habits are the best way to protect your smile.
Dental hygiene is an important lesson for kids, but it's also one that adults should brush up on periodically. Issues like tooth decay, tooth loss, and gum disease are fairly common among seniors, and while regular dental visits are a good place to start, there's also a lot you can do at home to help protect your pearly whites.
Proactive senior dental care is a smart approach for a number of reasons. As you age, so do your teeth and gums. About 68 percent of adults age 65 and older have gum disease, which can cause receding gums that expose more of the roots of teeth and potentially increase your risk of cavities. The American Dental Association reports that about 50 percent of people over age 75 have cavities in at least one tooth.
If you're feeling discouraged by the statistics, don't be. There are plenty of simple ways to keep your mouth healthy as you age.
Use the Right Brush
Any kind of soft-bristled brush is probably a good choice, but it's still important to make sure you're doing a good job of cleaning your teeth. Switching to an electric toothbrush with a wide, easy-to-grip handle might also be helpful, especially if you have arthritis in your hands, shoulders, elbows, or neck. Remember to brush at least twice a day and use toothpaste with fluoride to help keep your teeth protected against cavities.
Don't Ignore the Spaces
Daily flossing is important, but this hygiene habit can be difficult if you have trouble moving your hands and fingers. If you're struggling, try swapping regular string floss for floss picks or a water flosser.
Drink Plenty of Water
Good hydration is the best way to combat dry mouth, but if you're still having trouble, there are a variety of special rinses, lozenges, and sprays that can help. Some products, like XyliMelts, can even be used while you sleep. Ask your dentist or Rite Aid Pharmacist for guidance if you aren't sure what's best for you.
Watch What You Eat
Start by avoiding sucking candies and sticky sweets, which cling to your teeth and can contribute to cavities. If your mouth is dry, you should also aim to cut back on any foods that might be irritating, such as coffee, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and citrus. Crunchy snacks like chips and popcorn can also cause problems as they tend to get stuck in between your teeth. When you do snack, be sure to floss afterward.
Look for Spots
Your dentist should screen you for oral cancer as part of your regular checkup, but if you develop a sore that bleeds or doesn't heal, have pain in your tongue or jaw, or notice a lump anywhere in your mouth, be sure to tell your doctor or dentist as soon as possible. Many mouth problems are benign, but it's always better to have any changes in your mouth evaluated by a healthcare professional.
By Barbara Brody
American Dental Association, Aging and Dental Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Facts About Older Adult Oral Health
American Dental Association, Healthy Habits
American, Dental Association, The Link Between Medication and Cavities
American Dental Association, Top 9 Foods That Damage Your Teeth