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4 Tips for Maintaining Oral Health in Older Adults

By Jill Feilmeier on September 3, 2013 in Dental Health

For many adults, getting older means they may be faced with unfamiliar oral health concerns. Learn w

The U.S. population is aging. By 2060, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that 24% of the U.S. population, 98 million people, will be age 65 or older. As this group continues to grow, more individuals will be seeking information about oral health problems in older adults.

Keep reading to learn how to avoid some of the most common issues for an aging mouth.

Solutions for common oral health problems in older adults 

Getting older doesn’t mean you have to deal with more oral health issues. Here are four tips to help you prevent some of the most common oral health problems in older adults.

Drink water to prevent cavities

According to a survey from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research,  96.4 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 65 have “cavities, missing, or filled permanent teeth.” This percentage is higher than any other age demographic in the survey. One simple lifestyle change that can help prevent cavities and other oral health problems is to drink more water. Not only is water sugar-free, it can also help keep your teeth clean.

Dehydration, or not drinking enough water, can cause your salivary glands to reduce or stop producing saliva. Your mouth relies on saliva to help wash away harmful bacteria, and without enough of it, plaque will stick around longer and lead to cavities, mouth sores, bad breath, and gum disease.

If your mouth continues to feel dry despite increasing your water intake, it could be caused by prescriptions or a disease. Talk to your dentist and your doctor to determine the cause of your dry mouth. Once you find the cause, special toothpaste, rinses, and sprays can be recommended, as well as medication changes.

Brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease

Gum disease impacts two out of three adults aged 65 and older in the United States. In mild cases, gums can develop gingivitis and become inflamed, swollen, and irritated. The irritated gum tissue begins to pull away from the tooth, and the worse it gets, the less secure your teeth are in place. Advanced gum disease is called periodontitis and can lead to bone and tissue loss, as well as tooth loss. As this disease progresses, teeth may start to feel loose or move around in the mouth.

Ongoing studies show that people with gum disease are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, or other serious health events.

To prevent and even reverse gum disease, it’s important to brush your teeth twice a day and floss once daily. A good dental hygiene routine can help prevent the buildup of plaque around the gums, which can lead to inflammation. It’s also important to see your dentist every six months for preventive cleanings. 

Quit tobacco and limit alcohol to prevent oral cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco and excessive alcohol use are the largest risk factors for oral cancer as they can contain cancer causing chemicals, making them carcinogenic, or having the capability to cause cancer.

Most carcinogens, like tobacco and chemicals found in alcohol, work by “interacting with a cell’s DNA to produce mutations.” Quitting tobacco products and cutting down on alcohol consumption can help reduce your risk of developing the disease.

The American Cancer Society predicts that about 54,540 people will get oral or oropharyngeal cancer in 2023. Oral cancer can affect your gums, tongue, lips, teeth, throat, tonsils, and other soft tissues in the mouth. In the United States, the average age of a person diagnosed with oral cancer is 64.

If you need help quitting, there are local resources available to support you right now.

Older adults need dental insurance

The best way to take care of your oral health as an older adult is to invest in dental insurance. If you don’t have coverage through an employer, there are other affordable options available such as individual plans. Dental insurance makes it easier to see providers for preventive check-ups and can help cover some of the costs for procedures you may need as you age. 

The right dental plan is key to maintaining oral health in older adults. Contact us to learn more about the specifics of your coverage options.

If you don’t have dental benefits, we can help! Not all plans require you to wait for the next open enrollment period. Find the dental plan that meets your needs today.

*Updated August 2023