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4 Tips for Maintaining Oral Health in Older Adults

By Jill Hamilton on September 3, 2013 in Dental Health


Learn to prevent four of the most common oral health issues in older adults.

As we age, we may start to experience unfamiliar dental health concerns. With an estimated 98 million Americans over the age of 65 by 2060, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now is the time to learn more about keeping your grin healthy in your golden years.

As your mouth matures, here are some ways to avoid: dry mouth, cavities, cancer, and pain.

Solutions for Common Problems with Aging Teeth and Gums 

WebMD lists the most common oral health problems for older adults:

Common oral health problems for older adults include dry mouth (Xerostomia), cavities (dental caries

Here are our top 4 tips for adults 65 and older facing common oral health problems.

Tip #1: Prevent Cavities by Drinking Water

Even if you didn’t get cavities as a kid, you can still get them. As we age, we may experience higher rates of cavities and tooth loss  compared to younger adults. There’s a myth: “Dry mouth comes naturally with age.” This is false! As we age, we may experience dry mouth but your dentist can almost always point to the reason why.

Our mouths rely on saliva to help wash away harmful bacteria. Without enough of it, plaque sticks around longer, which can lead to cavities and gum disease. If you have dry mouth, consider if it is being caused by prescriptions, disease, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Talk to your dentist and your doctor, they will be happy to work with you 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. We also recommend drinking more water!

Limit your alcohol intake as it is a large contributor to dry mouth, especially when taking medication(s). Challenge yourself, when you feel thirsty, grab a glass of water!

Tip #2: Prevent Gum Disease, Brush and Floss Daily

When plaque doesn’t get brushed or flossed away for more than 24 hours, it coats your teeth and hides under the gumline where a toothbrush can’t reach. As the layer of plaque builds from a lack of brushing and flossing, your gums become inflamed and irritated. This is called gingivitis. The irritated gum tissue begins to pull away from the tooth. The worse it gets, the less secure your teeth are.

  • This advanced gum disease is called periodontitis. It can lead to bone and tissue loss, as well as tooth loss. As it progresses, teeth may start to feel loose or shift around in the mouth.

About two out of three adults over 65 have gum disease. Ongoing studies show that people with gum disease are more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other serious health events. Talk to your dentist right away if you notice any of these symptoms. 

Tips #3: Tooth Tools to Prevent Pain

When your mouth isn’t receiving the proper care, it can be painful to brush and floss. Ensure you're giving your smile the TLC it deserves by brushing and flossing twice a day to prevent the consequences of plaque buildup. Some adults experience discomfort during their dental care routine because of arthritis or other painful dexterity issues. Using an electric toothbrush, instead of a manual one, allows a strong grip for proper control. It can also put less stress on hand muscles and prevent existing pain conditions. Flossing can be made a much easier task with a water flosser or floss pick. Talk to your dentist to learn which products would be best for you and your lifestyle!

Tip #4: Quit Tobacco, Limit Alcohol to Prevent Oral Cancer

The elimination of smoking and tobacco use is critical to prevent a variety of different oral health complications. Bad breath, tooth discoloration, dry mouth and cancer are all side effects of smoking and consuming tobacco. Although cases in young adults are on the rise, the average age that oral cancer is diagnosed at 63.

The American Cancer Society predicts that about 54,010 people will get oral or oropharyngeal cancer in 2021. Of those, about 10,850 people won’t survive the diagnosis. That’s 20 percent.

Tobacco and excessive alcohol use are the strongest risk factors. Smoking and oral tobacco use are linked with cancers of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips. Pipe smoking is linked to a high risk of cancer where the lips touch the pipe stem. About 7 in 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. A combination of smoking, oral tobacco and drinking alcohol is harmful because the chemicals in tobacco get inside the cells that line your mouth and in conjunction, alcohol prevents cell damage repair.

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

If you think any of these oral cancer symptoms sound familiar, talk to your dentist or doctor right away.

The right dental plan is key to maintaining oral health as you age. Contact us to learn more about the specifics of your coverage.

Don’t have dental benefits? Not all plans require you to wait for the next open enrollment period. Find the dental plan that meets your needs today. 

Time to find a dentist? Find one close to you today. 

*Updated April 2021