We’re not getting any younger! How many times have you heard this lament? It’s true, nobody’s growing young, but thanks to medical and technological advancements, people are living longer than ever. Of course, it means taking better care of your health, including your oral health.
Like every other aspect of your healthcare, seniors need to approach oral health in a slightly different way. It might mean switching up your regular oral care routine to include some new steps or products. Or, it could mean addressing some dental issues you put off for too long.
Let’s talk about why dental care for seniors is so important, what you should look for, and how you can have a happy, healthy smile at any age.
How To Take Care Of Your Teeth As You Age
Okay, so our teeth change as we age, but what actually happens to them? First, think about what 60, 70, or 80 years of wear and tear has done to the rest of the body, then apply that to the teeth. Three square meals per day (plus snacks?) can certainly take a toll on teeth.
Beyond the general wear and tear, we develop a range of conditions with age that weaken the enamel and dentin. Maybe you overcame cancer or developed a chronic condition that requires medication. Or, perhaps a lifetime of stress led to too much teeth grinding.
Finally, tissues and gums weaken with age, which includes your gums, teeth, and jaw. That’s right, aside from growing shorter (that’s truly a thing), our gums recede and we lose bone density.
With so many factors working against you, a solid oral care routine is more important than ever!
- Brush at least twice per day. Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride.
- Floss daily, at least once.
- Use an antiseptic mouthwash at least once per day.
- See your dentist every six months for an oral exam and professional cleaning.
Paying extra attention to your teeth and gums is extremely important for older adults. Though we can’t stop aging, we can keep our smiles healthy!
Common Oral Health Problems In Elderly Adults
Aging puts us at greater risk for various health conditions, including some common oral issues. Knowing what to look for and understanding the risk factors can help you address potential issues earlier.
Our mouths rely on saliva to clean away debris and bacteria, but some treatments and conditions can reduce the amount our bodies produce. Some medications, radiation treatments, and certain autoimmune conditions can reduce saliva production and cause dry mouth.
Gum disease is extremely common in adults, especially seniors. Poor-fitting dentures, dietary issues, and years of tobacco use can be just as harmful as some long-term and chronic diseases, like cancer and diabetes.
Cavities become more prevalent as the enamel and dentin weaken. Factor in the prevalence of dry mouth and you have a perfect environment for cavities. Unchecked, cavities can cause enough damage to require tooth extraction.
Oral cancers aren’t as common as other types, like lung and colon, but it’s not uncommon in older adults, especially men. The risk of oral cancer increases with age, especially for people with chronic health issues, like heart disease and diabetes. Oral cancer screenings are recommended for all older adults, preferably by their dentist.
Tooth loss in seniors usually occurs due to gum disease. All of the above factors plus long-term smoking and poor diet can make the situation worse.
It’s crucial for seniors to keep regular appointments with their dental team to ensure they stay on top of any potential problem areas. The dental team can clear out along the gum lines, screen for oral cancer, and address concerns, like dry mouth and cavities.
If you or a senior in your life needs a check-up and teeth cleaning, the team at Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics can help!
Dental Procedures For Good Senior Oral Health
It might not be possible to completely preserve our permanent teeth and gums, but it’s still possible to have a healthy smile. Seniors have more options than ever for restoring missing teeth and improving gum health.
Dental implants are an excellent solution for people with missing teeth, especially if they also want to halt bone loss. The dentist places a screw in the jaw that simulates a tooth root and fuses with the jaw bone. Then, a custom-made crown fits over the top of the screw. It’s an effective solution for permanently restoring a smile, and the implants look natural.
Crowns can also cover damaged or weakened teeth to provide support and preserve the root and remaining tooth. There are many options to choose from, depending on where the tooth is in the mouth.
Dentures also replace missing teeth. They can be full dentures that replace all of the teeth or partial dentures for a few missing teeth. Depending on the situation, seniors have various options for partial dentures to get a fit that works best for them.
Though our gums naturally recede with age, some people may develop extensive issues that require surgical intervention. There are a few different types of gum surgery, depending on the individual.
- Flap surgery involves lifting the gums to clean out tartar and plaque and then stitching them back in place.
- Bone grafting occurs if the root is too damaged. The surgeon removes damaged tissues and replaces them with new bone.
- Tissue grafting is a solution when the gums have receded too far and exposed the roots. It involves removing tissue from somewhere else, typically the roof of the mouth, and applying it to the affected areas.
Gum surgery typically occurs in situations where gum disease has progressed to advanced stages. Only a dental professional can determine if gum surgery is necessary and advise on the best course.
Oral Cancer Treatments
Treating oral cancer depends on the staging. It’s best to catch oral cancers as early as possible, making oral screenings critical for seniors.
- Surface cancers, or stage 0, typically involve surgically removing the spot and potentially following up with radiation therapy.
- Stages 1 and 2 typically involve a combination of treatments, including surgery, radiation, and chemo.
- Stages 3 and 4A require surgery to start and then typically radiation or chemoradiation.
- Stages 4B and 4C oral cancers involve a combination of treatments, depending on what other parts of the body are involved. Patients can expect a staged treatment approach involving surgery, chemo, immunotherapy, and/or radiation.
On top of treating the cancer, the medical team typically advises patients to stop using tobacco products and may suggest additional measures.
Expert Tips For Elderly Dental Care
While the impact of aging on dental health can seem a little scary, there are many simple things you can do to keep your smile healthy.
Regular Dental Checks
One of the best things you can do for your oral health is to see your dentist regularly. The professional teeth cleaning can remove the buildup that you can’t get. More importantly, the check-up allows your dentist to identify problem areas as early as possible so you can address them and prevent bigger issues.
Brush And Floss Daily
Brush and floss daily to remove food and bacteria that cause trouble for your teeth and gums. Adding in a medicated mouthwash could give you an additional layer of protection and leave your mouth feeling fresher.
Bone loss is a common factor in aging, one that affects your teeth and jaw. Calcium supplements can ensure we get a sufficient amount to support healthy bones and teeth.
Taking Care Of Dentures
Poor fitting dentures can cause a range of issues, and they are so uncomfortable! Caring for your dentures is crucial to maintaining that proper fit and supporting oral health. Aside from cleaning them properly and soaking them overnight, it helps to limit sugar and avoid tobacco use. Don’t forget to have your dentist check them over at your six-month check-ups!
Payment Care For Dental Treatments For Seniors
Paying for dental care can be a challenge for older Americans, and lead them to avoid follow-ups. Like other healthcare, dental care is crucial for seniors, and it shouldn’t be something that causes financial stress. There are ways to afford the care you need, including check-ups and teeth cleanings.
Many seniors have health coverage through Medicare and find out that the original plan doesn’t cover most dental services. However, those who pick up Medicare Advantage Plans can receive more benefits, including dental coverage.
Dental Savings Plan
If you don’t have insurance, you aren’t out of luck. Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics Dental Savings Plan can make dental care affordable. For just $29 per year per person, you can get a free exam and x-rays plus save up to 50% off other services.
Choose JDO To Maintain Your Smile!
Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics works with patients of all ages, including senior dental services. Our friendly team is ready to provide you with the care and support you need to get the healthy smile you deserve!