Importance of Dental Health for Seniors

by | Feb 19, 2020 | Dental Advice

Keep your mouth young as you age!

Many people wrongly assume that losing their teeth is just a natural part of the aging process. They resign themselves to their fate, doing nothing to prevent it. 

It doesn’t have to be this way! 

When you give your teeth and gums the attention they deserve, maintaining your lovely full smile into your senior years is possible. You can continue smiling and communicating confidently and clearly, and eating the foods you love. 

Most importantly, by taking care of your dental health as you age, set your body up for better overall health and wellness. 

Dental health & seniors — know the facts

The number of US adults aged 65 or older is expected to reach 98 million by the year 2060. Here’s what you need to know about this population.

  • 96% have a cavity (1 in 5 of these cases go untreated)
  • 2 in 3 have gum disease
  • 1 in 5 have lost all their teeth

How age affects dental health

As you age, your mouth, teeth, and gums experience some changes: 

  • A lifetime of chewing and exposure to acidic foods can wear away layers of tooth enamel
  • Teeth often become less sensitive, so you don’t notice pain until an issue is very large
  • Gum tissue naturally recedes with age

On its own, age doesn’t always negatively affect your oral health. There are a number of other factors working together to put seniors more at risk for dental health issues.

  • Difficulty brushing and flossing due to arthritis in the hands and fingers
  • Not keeping up with regular dental checkups
  • Taking certain medications that cause dry mouth, which leads to increased bacteria in the mouth

 It’s so important to keep up with your regular dental checkups so your dentist can catch issues early, taking preventive steps before they cause big problems.

Common senior dental health problems

Dental issues can occur at any age, but thanks to a combination of the factors mentioned above, the following problems are especially common in seniors:

  • Tooth decay — Your teeth have been around for a while now! It’s natural to experience some wear and tear. What matters is how you respond when signs of decay start to appear. Working with your dentist to repair decay as soon as possible is very important.
  • Gum recession — Like we mentioned, it’s natural for gums to recede as you age. However, if you’re not vigilant with your care, or if your gums recede too much, it can cause a host of other problems, including root decay and gum disease.
  • Bad breath — If you have gum disease, are taking certain medications, or don’t properly clean your dentures, it can cause bad breath (halitosis).
  • Dark teeth — It’s natural for the dentin in your teeth to change. As a result, the color of your teeth can change, too. 
  • Tooth loss — Untreated issues like tooth decay, gum recession, root decay, and gum disease can lead to missing teeth.

If you notice any of the issues above, be sure to seek immediate dental attention.

Why senior dental health is so important

If you don’t take care of your teeth as you get older, then you probably will experience tooth loss. But even if you don’t care about the appearance of your smile or your ability to eat or speak normally, there are other important reasons to care for your dental health into your golden years.

Your mouth is a window to your body. Disease, tooth loss, decay, and other dental health issues affect your overall health and wellness. Taking care of your teeth and gums as you age can help reduce your risk of serious illnesses, many that you may not even expect!

  • Heart disease — Bacteria in the mouth can easily move into the bloodstream through gum tissue. This bacteria has been shown to make its way to the walls of blood vessels, contribute to cardiovascular disease and even heart attacks and strokes.
  • Respiratory infections — Poor dental health is bad for your respiratory health. Bacteria from the mouth can reach the lungs and has been shown to cause infections in older adults, often leading to pneumonia.
  • Diabetes — Seniors with diabetes are more susceptible to developing gum disease. It’s a vicious cycle though, because once you have gum disease, it can be even more difficult to control blood sugar levels.

How to care for your teeth as you age

As you age and your immune system naturally weakens, taking care of your teeth and gums is incredibly important. Here are our tips for dental care for seniors.

1. Practice good dental hygiene habits

Getting older is not an excuse — no matter your age, brushing and flossing every day is important, but it’s especially crucial as you get older.

After the age of 50, plaque builds up more quickly and becomes much more difficult to get rid of. Aim to brush and floss after every meal. You should also brush when you wake up and before going to bed.

  • Always use a soft bristle toothbrush
  • We recommend using an electric toothbrush, which is especially helpful for those with arthritis
  • Ask your dentist to recommend a mouthwash, which can be helpful in preventing cavities
  • Be gentle! Use slow movements as you brush and don’t jam the floss down on your gums

2. Visit your dentist regularly

This is so important!

Your dentist is your biggest partner in ensuring you keep your teeth — and keep them healthy! Make sure you visit your dentist for regular cleanings and oral exams. Your dentist will be able to catch any issues early on, helping you stop and prevent large and costly problems.

3. Drink lots of water

Drinking water has so many health benefits for your teeth and gums. For example, it helps wash away leftover food and fights dry mouth. Fluoridated water is especially good for you as it helps prevent tooth decay, no matter what age!

4. Stop smoking

Smoking puts you at greater risk for lung and other cancers, but it’s hard on your teeth, too. Smoking increases problems with gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss. It’s never too late to stop smoking. Doing so can help decrease your risk of serious dental and whole body health issues.

Let’s keep your mouth young as you age

Taking care of your teeth is an important part of living a full and healthy life. We’re here to help. At Union Dental Center, our office provides compassionate and high-tech dental care for every age, and we’re especially fond of helping the older adults in our community. 

The sooner a problem is found, the better, but even if it’s been years since you last visited the dentist, that’s okay. We’re glad you’ve decided to take steps to improve your health today. We’ll give you strategies for caring for your teeth as you age and help you prevent and fix any issues.

See you soon.

 Dr. H. Brett Friedman

Dr. H. Brett Friedman

Dr. Friedman earned his Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Maryland, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1996. For over 20 years, Dr. Friedman has been creating the smiles of his patients’ dreams. He believes that nothing should stand between you and a healthier smile.