Senior dental health and why it’s important

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Al Brandenburg Maricopa
Al Brandenburg

The holidays are over and we all probably put on a few pounds as well as made New Years resolutions that most of us won’t keep. But in the new year we should reassess what we do to keep up our health. Taking care of your teeth and gums is important throughout your life but advancing age can put seniors more at risk for a variety of dental issues. Conditions like arthritis might make it difficult to practice good dental hygiene daily, or memory loss may cause some seniors to forget to brush and floss. Changes in the mouth can lead to other health problems for some of the elderly population. However, with the proper care and regular visits to the dentist, it’s possible for your teeth and gums to stay in great condition as you age. Some of the common issues seniors face when it comes to oral hygiene include:

  • Cavities and root decay. Older adults often face more cavities and decay on the root surfaces of the teeth. Root decay is common as the roots become exposed when the gum tissue recedes from the tooth.
  • Darkened teeth. Usually caused by changes in dentin, the bone-like tissues under the tooth enamel, as well as years of consuming foods and drinks that can stain the teeth. Also, sometimes the enamel can thin, causing the darker yellow dentin to be revealed.
  • Increased sensitivity. As your gums recede over time, areas of the teeth not protected by enamel become exposed and can be sensitive to hot, cold sweet or sour foods. Sometimes, sensitivity is a sign of a cracked tooth or a cavity.
  • Dry mouth. One of the most common oral health issues in seniors is dry mouth, and it usually occurs due to medication side effects that reduce saliva flow.
  • Decreased sense of taste. Another common medication side effect that seniors face is a diminished sense of taste. Certain oral diseases or dentures can also affect our sense of taste.

First of all, the most important senior dental care tip to maintain good oral health is to visit your dentist twice every year. At your exam, discuss any issues you may be experiencing; if you’ve noticed any changes in your teeth or gums, any increased sensitivity or loose teeth, pain, discomfort, bleeding or sores. Secondly, brush your teeth twice each day, especially after meals and before bedtime. Use a toothpaste with fluoride, as it provides extra protection against dental decay. Also at bedtime, make sure to floss your teeth and rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash to help reduce bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease. Quit tobacco use and limit alcohol, as these substances increase the risk for periodontal disease and throat or oral cancers. For those of you who remember the TV commercial, Bucky Beaver says Brusha, Brusha, Brusha with your favorite toothpaste (OK it’s Ipana)…Keep smiling and stay healthy.

Al Brandenburg is a member of the Maricopa Senior Coalition.

Sources: mouthhealthy.org, asccare.com,
AARP, cdc.gov/oralhealth

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This column was first published in the January edition of InMaricopa magazine.