Brushing, flossing and seeing a dentist is super important, whether you’re 1 or 99. (OK, the babies can skip the flossing for a few years.) But as you age, oral health becomes 100 times more important. The good news is that thanks to the advancement of dental sciences, losing your teeth as you grow older is no longer inevitable. You really can keep all of your teeth, but as you get older it becomes more challenging to do. Regular dental care becomes even more critical. It’s never too late to begin.
What Aging Does to Teeth and Gums
As you age, the nerves in your gum line become smaller. You don’t feel as much pain, so you might not notice the damage when decay does occur. Gum disease affects nearly half of all adults and can hit critical levels as you age. If left untreated, it can result in tooth loss.
Prescription and over the counter medications can often cause dry mouth. Saliva plays a critical role in rinsing acids, sugars and food particles from your teeth to reduce cavities. If dry mouth is a problem, try chewing sugar free gum. It’s a good idea for everyone, but especially older people. And definitely avoid the sugar stuff, which will cause cavities.
Years of chewing and grinding your teeth can also wear away the enamel on your teeth, which increases the risk of cavities.
What You Can Do
The secret to a healthy mouth is fairly simple, no matter your age: Brush and floss regularly, and see your dentist often. You might also consider rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash. Chewing sugar free gum, especially gum that contains xylitol, will encourage saliva production, naturally rinsing the mouth and reducing the risk of cavities.
Clean dentures on a regular basis. Take them out of your mouth and let them air out at least 4 hours a day. The best time is at night.
Quit smoking. It’s never too late, and the health benefits are enormous, especially when it comes to oral health.
Drink tap water. Most tap water contains fluoride, which will help protect your teeth. It’s a good idea at any age, but especially as you get older.
Caring for a Disabled or Elderly Loved One
If you are caring for an aging parent, spouse or friend, encouraging oral health can be challenging. These 2 things are the most critical:
- Remembering to brush and floss regularly.
- See a dentist often.
Seems simple, but it can actually be quite challenging. Talk to your dentist. Some Cincinnati dentists specialize in caring for the elderly or disabled.
If they have a caregiver who is not yourself, talk to them about your concerns and develop a strategy to encourage dental hygiene.
Should your loved one be bed-ridden, it can be easy to forget to brush and floss, but it is important nonetheless. If they are under Medicaid, extra dental care, care giving, or other help may be available and funded as an Incurred Medical Expense. Talk to your Cincinnati family dentist