Oral Hygiene for the Elderly
Oral hygiene is important for people of all ages. Brushing and flossing reduces your risk of cavities and gum disease as well as a host of other oral health problems. There’s even some evidence that proper oral hygiene reduces your risk of heart disease. Routines change as we age, however; our bodies are different and we need to adjust our habits. When you were a very young child, your parents probably brushed your teeth for you – as you got older, you learned to brush them yourself. Perhaps there was a time when you didn’t floss and now you do. Your oral hygiene routine may well differ as you grow older. We’re going to look at the similarities and differences in oral health care for seniors and then dive into some signs and symptoms you want to watch out for that might indicate you need a change to your routine.
The More Things Change
…the more they stay the same. When you hear about oral health care, you’re going to get just about the same advice your whole life – brush at least twice a day for 2 minutes a session and floss at least once a day. That remains true whether you’re 8 or 88 (with some exceptions for dentures, but we’ll get to that later).
To understand why proper oral hygiene is so important, it can be useful to understand what brushing and flossing do for you. There are bacteria in your mouth; these bacteria like to eat food. They interact with sugars in your mouth to create plaque, a type of sticky film that sits on your teeth. When plaque isn’t brushed off quickly enough, it hardens into tartar, which is too tough to brush or floss away. That gives the bacteria a place to breed and they can then begin to work their way into your teeth (causing cavities) or your gums (causing gum disease).
We can draw an important conclusion from these facts: as long as you have gums and/or teeth, you’re going to have to practice proper oral hygiene. What’s more, it remains important to have a dental cleaning done on a regular basis to clean away any tartar. You want to choose the right dentist to have these cleanings done. There are dentists who have a lot of practice working with senior patients and they can give you advice on how your oral health may change with age.
Adapting Your Oral Health Routine
There are a variety of changes to your mouth that can occur as you age. One of the most important changes you might experience is dry mouth. What’s interesting about dry mouth is that it’s not a consequence of aging, but a consequence of other things that tend to happen more when you age. Here’s an example: as we get older, we tend to develop more health conditions. These conditions are often treatable but the medications used to treat them often have dry mouth as a side effect. Dry mouth can cause you to lose some of your sense of taste and it can interfere with the way you chew and talk.
Fortunately, there are a number of extremely simple ways of reducing the symptoms of dry mouth. The first (and most obvious)? Drink a lot of water. When the medications you’re taking dehydrate you, this element of oral health is even more important. You can also use chewing gum to stimulate saliva production.
Those of you with dentures, especially new dentures, might wonder whether or not you can chew gum. The good news is, you can! Be aware that if you haven’t used your dentures a lot, you’ll want to start with very soft gum; it can be a good method to practice chewing.
While we’re on the topic of dentures, it goes without saying that they’ll change your oral hygiene routine. What might surprise you is that you’ll want to brush your dentures the same way you brush your teeth; be sure to use a soft-bristled brush. You’ll also want to avoid whitening toothpastes; they contain more abrasives that can wear away your dentures.
You should remove your dentures every night; place them in a denture cleanser or a solution of water and vinegar – though if they have metal clasps, you’ll want to stick to warm water alone.
A brief note on implant care: they’re almost exactly like regular teeth, but you need to brush and floss them very carefully.
There are changes that can occur with age that limit one’s ability to complete activities of daily living, like brushing and flossing. Given this reality, home care professionals and those who care for loved ones should know a few things about assisting with oral hygiene. When brushing and flossing, have the person stationed in front of the sink while you stand behind them. This way, you can brush their teeth the same way you would brush your own. Keep communicating to find out if you’re brushing too hard. Ask the person you’re caring for how to remove their dentures and be sure to look at their dentures and teeth for any signs of problems like cracking or discoloration.
There’s a rising number of products to assist seniors who have trouble with activities of daily living and those taking care of them – products like adaptive clothing that provide easy dressing solutions for seniors. As it stands, there’s a dearth of products to assist with oral care. One item you can use that might be of assistance is electric toothbrushes; smart toothbrushes can give you feedback on how you’re brushing, which can be helpful for both caretakers and seniors.
Some Final Thoughts
Good oral hygiene is always important, but it’s particularly important as you get older. There are also a variety of health problems that can be noticed by your dentist, from diabetes to mouth cancer. That’s why it’s essential to keep visiting the dentist no matter how old you are. Your dentist will help you adjust your oral health care routine, will do thorough exams to spot any oral health problems, and can even catch warning signs of other diseases. With proper oral health care and regular visits to your dentist, you can keep an amazing smile full of healthy teeth for your whole lifetime.