Why dental healthcare matters as you age
Ten senior dental care issues and how to prevent them
As you may have noticed, maintaining your dental health can become more challenging as you age. You may not be surprised to learn that more than 70% of adults age 65 years and older have periodontal disease and almost 26% of U.S. adults in the same age bracket have eight teeth (or fewer) due to decay or gum disease. Clearly, focusing on senior dental care should be a top priority because dental procedures, especially those that are not planned for, can be costly and painful.
The most effective dental care for seniors starts with regular preventative care. Getting consistent check-ups, cleanings, and X-rays can minimize the need for involved procedures, like bridges, crowns, dentures, extractions, and root canals. Your dental health care provider will also monitor you for gum disease, which can become more prevalent as you age. You should aim to see a dentist every six months to maintain optimum dental health, but visit a dentist right away if you experience these symptoms:
- tooth or gum pain
- new discomfort or sensitivity
- loose teeth
- sores, swelling, or bumps in your mouth
Proper daily dental hygiene will also guard against needing additional senior dental care. Brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing, and rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash each day can keep your dental health in check even as you age. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends using a toothbrush with a larger handle or an electric toothbrush to making brushing easier, especially if you suffer from arthritis.
The ADA advises seeing your primary medical doctor regularly to monitor your dental health. That’s because other chronic health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and some cancers can increase the need for dental care for senior patients. Certain medications may cause side effects, like dry mouth, and a few can cause interactions with drugs required during dental procedures. Tell your medical doctor and dentist about prescription and over-the-counter medicines you are taking.
Seniors should pay special attention to these dental health issues:
1. Bad breath
Dry mouth, gum disease, and chronic illnesses, like kidney disease and diabetes, can cause this embarrassing condition. Proper daily dental care, whether you wear dentures or not, can diminish bad breath.
2. Tooth loss
Unchecked gum disease is the leading cause of seniors losing teeth and requiring dental help. Again, it’s strongly advised that you see your dentist on a regular basis to avoid tooth loss. Maintaining a healthy diet, including 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily will help your jawbone and teeth stay strong.
3. Dentures, partials, and bridges
Dentures for seniors and other dental implants require regular brushing and care, just like natural teeth. Maintaining proper dental health for your remaining natural teeth helps your implants and apparatuses fit and work properly.
4. Sensitive teeth
If you notice increased tooth sensitivity, you may have a cavity, gum disease, or worn enamel, so it’s important to see your dentist right away.
5. Dry mouth
This is one of the most common side effects of medications used to treat chronic health conditions. It can cause dental health issues, like cavities and gum disease. To combat this annoying and potentially problematic oral health issue, stay hydrated throughout the day and limit your intake of alcohol, sugary drinks, and caffeine.
6. Diminished sense of taste
Taking prescription medicines and wearing dentures may impact your sense of taste. Sensory loss is also a normal part of aging, and scientists are studying how loss of taste occurs so treatments can be developed.
7. Gum disease
Common causes of gum disease are plaque, food left on and in the teeth, smoking, chewing tobacco, poor nutrition, ill-fitting bridges and dentures, some cancers, and diabetes. Regular senior dental care is the best way to avoid developing gum disease.
According to the ADA, if you suffer from diabetes, you are more likely to also suffer from dry mouth, cavities, enflamed gums or gingivitis, periodontal disease, and diminished sense of taste. It’s important to keep your blood sugar in check and to visit your dentist regularly to monitor your oral health.
This and the use of other tobacco products can cause dental health issues, like oral cancer, gum disease, change in tooth color, diminished sense of taste, bad breath, and other potential problems. The best way to prevent these issues is obviously to stop using tobacco products.
10. Oral cancer
Signs of oral cancer include swelling, lumps or rough spots in your mouth, bleeding, facial sores, spots or unusual textures, change in your voice, tooth pain, and numbness. See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. Smoking and heavy alcohol use can cause oral cancer. People over age 55, especially men, are more likely to develop oral cancer. To reduce your chances of developing the disease, limit your sun exposure, eat a well-balanced diet, make dental health a priority, and don’t smoke.
Given the many dental issues and care needs seniors face, it’s important to have good dental coverage. Unfortunately, Medicare doesn’t offer seniors dental care coverage, but an American Republic Insurance Services agent can help you find the right dental plan to cover costs for the care you need.