Dental care for the Older adult

No. In fact, a good rise in the number of older patients with healthy teeth and gums has been recently noted. A good amount of time invested for your dental health, when younger, can go a long way in the older age. With the right home care and help from your dental team, it is possible to keep your teeth for life. Gum disease and tooth decay can be prevented, no matter your age.

Ageing often alters your oral health just it alters your general health. Some changes in your mouth is considered as a normal part of ageing. These can be any of the below –

  • Your gums may recede (shrink back) as you get older, and your teeth may become a little more sensitive as a result.
  • Some people take regular medication which makes their mouth dry.
  • Some patients can also notice an alteration in taste and smell, often showing a reduction of both senses.
  • You may find it more difficult to clean your teeth properly if you have problems with your hands or arms, or if your eyesight is poor.

Elderly people often take various medications. This may alter the normal salivary rate. Saliva helps to protect your teeth against decay, so if you have less saliva than usual, you often develop more food build up around your teeth, which can thereby increase the decay rate. Fortunately, this condition can be managed. You can buy special products, including artificial saliva, or saliva stimulating tablets, in most pharmacies without a prescription. Consult your dentist for better advice.

Gum disease is caused by a build-up of bacteria called 'plaque'. Plaque forms constantly on your teeth. In older adults, this bacteria build up is also associated with an age related exposure of roots in the oral cavity, which simply aggravates gum disease. If the plaque is not removed, the gum disease will, in time, affect the bone under the gums. This bone supports the tooth roots, so your teeth may gradually become loose.

Thoroughly remove plaque from your teeth (and dentures if you have them) at night and at least one other time during the day.

  • Use a fluoride toothpaste. There are many special toothpastes on the market, including tartar control and total care toothpastes.
  • Often receded gums lead to spaces between the teeth. You should clean in between your teeth at least once a day using interdental brushes or dental floss.
  • Cut down on how often you have food and drinks containing sugar - especially sweets that last longer in the mouth such as boiled sweets or mints.
  • Visit your dental team regularly, as often as they recommend.

Age may alter your brushing habits. Medical disorders can reduce your dexterity or your grip on a tooth brush. You need a small-headed, soft- to medium-textured toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste. To help clean between your teeth you could use an ‘interdental brush', floss or tape. Electric or ‘power' toothbrushes are also ideal for people with limited movement. The handles are thicker and easier to hold and the oscillating head does most of the work. Power toothbrushes have been proven to remove more plaque than manual toothbrushes, so everyone can benefit from using them.

It is often a challenge to deal with home bound patients. This is because it is difficult to do any treatment for them. Here, the primary aim is to avoid risk of harm. More often than not, most dentists aim at maintenance of dental health in these patients. Find a local dentist for a home visit, as many do visit homes to tend to elderly or differently-abled patients. 

Ulcers is of a more concern in older patients, as they tend to compromise on maintaining oral health, and poor oral health will leads to poor eating and other complications, which can only further affect their health. Ulcers can be caused by broken teeth, poorly fitting dentures or sharp pieces of food. Once the cause is removed, ulcers should heal within 3 weeks. If you notice an ulcer which does not heal, see your dentist straight away. Many serious conditions, such as mouth cancer, can be better treated if diagnosed early at a routine check-up.

Last updated on 02 December, 2018.

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