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Cavities, Dry Mouth and Gum Disease… Oh My!

September 06, 2012


As we age, there are many aspects of life that change. Mobility and medication are just two of the changes that can affect our oral health habits. For many seniors, oral health can become an issue when arthritis or other mobility problems leave them unable to care for their mouths as effectively as they once did.

So, for our senior readers and their adult children, we’ll review the top oral health concerns for seniors and how to adapt to life’s many changes.

  1. Cavities
    Though you may associate cavities with children chomping on candy, tooth decay is actually a very common chronic disease in people 65 years and older. Not that many years ago, most people had lost their original teeth by the age of 65. Adults are now keeping most of their teeth for a lifetime, which is very possible with good oral habits from a young age. However, the risk for tooth decay can increase as we age because root surfaces can become exposed and dry mouth reduces the protective benefits of saliva. In addition, many older adults don’t go to the dentist as often as they used to, so cavities sometimes go untreated for longer than they should. In fact, about 25 percent of adults 65 and older haven’t been to the dentist in five years. Keeping regular dentist appointments is the key to getting cavities treated in a timely manner.
  2. Dry Mouth
    Many seniors are on multiple medications for a variety of chronic illnesses or conditions. A surprising number of medications cause dry mouth, even very common ones such as decongestants. Dry mouth is more than just a minor inconvenience - as its name indicates, the condition deprives the mouth of saliva, which plays a critical role in preventing tooth decay. To help counter this, stay hydrated and limit intake of caffeine and alcohol. Check with your physician or dentist if you think that your medications are causing your mouth to feel dry.
  3. Gum Disease
    Gum disease affects people of all ages, but it typically becomes worse with increased age. Proper brushing and flossing can prevent gum disease. Seniors having trouble gripping a standard toothbrush should ask their dentist about modifying a handle for easier use. You may also want to consider a battery-powered toothbrush.

Seniors should maintain the same good habits they always have:

  • Brush teeth twice a day
  • Floss daily
  • Drink fluoridated water
  • Use toothpaste with fluoride
  • Avoid tobacco
  • Eat a healthy diet with minimal snacking on carbohydrates, sweets and sugary beverages (so they don’t ‘stick’ to your teeth)
  • Keep regular appointments with the dentist

If there’s anything on this checklist that hasn’t been part of the oral health routine before, it’s never too late to start, no matter your age.


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