5 Essential Dental Health Tips for Seniors
By the time we’re 60+, we know that brushing and flossing twice a day, visiting a dentist regularly, and eating nutritious foods are all essential components of good oral health. These healthy habits become even more important as we age, when conditions that affect our mouth may also affect our entire body. For example, research has shown that infections in the mouth may be associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, pneumonia and other health problems that are common in older adults.
Furthermore, we may notice the emergence of other health concerns that are specific to seniors. A few of these are listed below.
As we grow older, we enter a second round of cavity-prone years. Except this round is likely not caused exclusively by your dietary habits. Indeed, the most common cause of cavities in older adults is dry mouth. Dry mouth is a natural part of aging, but is also a common side effect of many medications prescribed for conditions ranging from asthma to Alzheimer’s. This is why it is very important to discuss any medications you may be taking with your dentist, who may suggest some of the following solutions:
- Use over-the-counter oral moisturizers, such as a spray or mouthwash.
- Consult with your physician on whether to change the medication or dosage.
- Drink more water. Carry a water bottle with you, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Your mouth needs constant lubrication.
- Use sugar-free gum or lozenges to stimulate saliva production.
- Get a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air.
- Avoid foods and beverages that irritate dry mouths, like coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks, and acidic fruit juices.
- Ask your dentist to apply a fluoride gel or varnish to protect your teeth from cavities.
Many older adults have gum or periodontal disease caused by bacteria in plaque. These bacteria can irritate the gums, making them red, swollen, and more likely to bleed. Because it is often painless until it reaches an advanced stage, many older adults do not realize they have gum disease until it has already caused significant damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, gum disease can be treated, and even prevented, with regular dental checkups.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 48,330 cases of mouth, throat, and tongue cancer will be diagnosed in 2016. Three quarters of all mouth, throat, and tongue cancers occur in individuals over 55 years old, with most individuals diagnosed at or around age 62. Men are twice as likely as women to develop these cancers.
Like gum disease, the early stages of mouth cancer is painless, though some early symptoms include sores; white or reddish patches; and changes in the lips, tongue and lining of the mouth that last for more than two weeks. Regular dental checkups are essential for early detection, which can save lives.
Antibiotics Before Dental Procedures
If you have a heart condition or artificial joint, be sure to tell your dentist before any dental procedure. Because some conditions carry a high risk of infection, an antibiotic taken before a dental procedure may help protect your overall health.
Dentists follow recommendations that have been rigorously tested and developed by the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in cooperation with the American Dental Association. Talk to your dentist about how these recommendations might apply to you.
Dental Care After Retirement
Many retirees do not know that Medicare does not cover regular dental care, which means that financial planning for dental expenses in retirement should begin early. It’s also important to know that some organizations, like AARP, offer supplemental dental insurance plans for their members.
There are also many discount dental plans available that are often less expensive than typical insurance. The National Association of Dental Plans’ website can help you find a plan that fits your needs. In addition, many dentists offer no interest or low interest financing plans that may be a better option than high interest credit card payments. If you are concerned about affording your dental health procedures in the future, talk to your dentist. We will work with you to ensure that your health is well taken care of.
Information for this blog post was adapted from the American Dental Association. View the original post here.