Caring for Teeth as You Age: A Guide for Older Adults
As you get older, you experience many changes to your body, and your teeth are no exception to the rule. Teeth have amazing longevity — when other parts of your body fail, they remain constant, especially if they are properly cared for. But seniors need to have proper dental care in order to maintain good oral health.
If you want to protect your teeth as you get older, consider the following guidelines for optimal senior dental care.
Talk to Your Dentist About Changes to Your Physical Health
Every part of your body affects the other parts. Your dentist needs to know about any medications and health concerns because they can affect your teeth.
For example, your teeth need saliva to prevent tooth decay. When your mouth is too try, bacteria and food particles remain on the teeth for longer, accelerating the rate of decay. You should let your dentist know if you must take medications to manage a chronic condition, like antihypertensives for blood pressure, because some medications cause dry mouth.
Some treatments for diseases past also result in dry mouth. If you have had any type of cancer in your head or neck area that required chemotherapy or radiation treatments, you could experience dry mouth as a long-term side effect of the cancer treatment.
Other health conditions also cause dry mouth. You might, for example, have trouble breathing through your nose if you have sleep apnea. Snoring dries out your mouth, and snoring is much more common with age because you naturally lose muscle tone.
Some seniors try to mitigate dry mouth on their own. You might enjoy sucking on mints or using hard candies to bring wetness into your mouth. However, candy and sugar also make decay worse, even if they do temporarily make your mouth feel more moist.
Your dentist can suggest some medications and lifestyle changes to help relieve dry mouth. You also might try sipping water consistently throughout the day, relying on water instead of candies for dry mouth relief.
Watch for Changes in Mobility and Dexterity
If you start to notice that brushing or flossing your teeth is more difficult or uncomfortable, talk to your dentist. Sometimes, seniors with joint problems or arthritis might not have the dexterity to manipulate the floss or get the brush at the right angle.
There are tools you can use to help manage both of these problems. Your dentist might suggest a water flosser so you don’t need to use a string. Some people also have success with floss picks instead of using string floss.
Electric toothbrushes are easier to use and move in the mouth, allowing you to get a superior clean without as much arm and hand movement.
Recognize Changing Tastes and Diets
As you age, you taste buds also change. You might wish for things to be sweeter or saltier because food begins to taste bland as your taste buds lose some sensation. Unfortunately, adding sugar can mean decreased health for your teeth. Be aware that your desire for sweets is a result of your changing taste buds.
Try to save sweet treats for special occasions, and try to brush your teeth after eating treats. Avoid eating sugar and sweets at each meal, and avoid snacking on sweet things during the day. Curb cravings for sweets by eating more wholesome sources of carbohydrates, including whole grains and starchy vegetables.
Accept the Need for Necessary Appliances
If you do experience some tooth loss (it is common as you get older), be prepared to accept the need for dental work to fill the gaps. Some people resist getting dental bridges or dentures because they do not like the idea of change or because they do not trust that the replacement teeth will be worth the cost.
However, elderly people are prone to bone and tissue loss in areas where teeth are missing, and their teeth are more likely to shift in the mouth, affecting their tooth alignment and their bite. Once your teeth are not lined up properly, they are harder to clean. More teeth are in danger of becoming damaged through uneven bite force or increased decay.
Consider Some Cosmetic Alterations
Your teeth are not just for chewing and speaking. They are also for smiling. You might feel self-conscious as you notice your teeth becoming darker or discolored with age. This darkening is caused by thinning of the enamel in your teeth, allowing the darker dentin to show through.
Also, your teeth have been exposed to a lifetime of substances, so your teeth might also have stains from basic wear and tear and from habits like smoking and drinking alcohol.
Talk to your dentist about the possibility of some cosmetic treatments. You might want veneers for dark or discolored from teeth, or some whitening to help remove stains.
For more information about caring for teeth as you age, contact us at Apollo Dental.