Life Stages of Oral Health: The Golden Years
Not much has changed since you were using a step stool to reach the sink. Good brushing and flossing habits remain vital to the health of your teeth. Seniors should continue to brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss once a day. Despite having many of the same oral health concerns they've always had, there are definitely some new ones that come with getting older.
Dry mouth is a common problem among older adults and can result from medical conditions or as a side effect of certain medications. Dry mouth can lead to eating difficulties, dental decay and cause sores for denture wearers, so it's important to take care of your mouth before problems develop.
Drinking plenty of fluids, chewing sugar-free gum and using a humidifier at night may help prevent dry mouth. Staying current with dental appointments and discussing symptoms with your dentist are essential to keeping your mouth healthy.
In addition to dry mouth, seniors should also keep a close eye out for periodontal (gum) disease, which can progress slowly and painlessly over time. Although it's a major cause of tooth loss in adults, gum disease is preventable and even reversible in its early stages. Symptoms include bleeding gums during brushing, loose teeth or teeth moving apart, changes in bite or in the fit of partial dentures, or persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth. Your best defense is practicing prevention through daily oral health habits and visiting your dentist on a regular basis. If you're a senior planning to enter a nursing facility, or have a loved one making the move, ask how staff is trained in basic dental health care. Find out if staff is trained to recognize dental health problems or if on-call dental professionals are available.
Accessing dental care can be especially difficult for nursing facility residents and homebound elderly. So much so that the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation has made a strategic goal to ensure that every Iowa nursing home resident and homebound elderly person has access to oral health care by 2020. The Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation helped develop and supports the Lifelong Smiles Coalition to assure optimal oral health for aging Iowans.
With a little due diligence, you and your loved ones can continue to maintain their healthy smile!