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Dental Hygiene Is Essential to Senior Health

Through improved dental health and hygiene, today’s seniors are maintaining more of their natural teeth than elders of previous generations.

While this deserves a smile, a mouthful of natural teeth is also reason for seniors to continue taking good oral hygiene seriously. Dental hygiene affects far more than dental health. Good teeth can help seniors get the benefits of a balanced diet, while poor dental health can have a negative effect on other conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Due to some of the effects of aging, oral hygiene practices can become more difficult. Arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, the effects of stroke and dementia all make regular brushing and flossing a challenge for seniors. Other age-related conditions also put seniors’ dental health at risk. Among these is dry mouth, which reduces the flow of saliva that naturally rinses away food particles and neutralizes decay-causing acids, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (www.agd.org).

Dry mouth, which is treatable, can be caused by disease, medications and cancer treatment. Also, more than 95 percent of seniors lose gum tissue, which exposes the roots of teeth to decay. Because of this, seniors face a greater risk of cavities than children. Consumption of bottled and filtered water, which does not contain decay-preventing fluoride, may increase the risk of decay for seniors and others.

The following tips can help seniors maintain good dental health:

  • Floss daily and brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Seniors who have limited dexterity due to medical conditions may consider using an electric toothbrush or having a caregiver assist with oral hygiene practices, the Canadian Dental Association suggests.
  • Alternatives to the above include adapting a manual toothbrush for easier use by inserting the handle into a rubber ball or sponge hair curler or gluing the handle into a bicycle grip. Dental floss holders are also available for those with limited dexterity. Dentists can help you find solutions.
  • Drink fluoridated tap water instead of bottled water to protect against cavities, and see a dentist for fluoride treatments.
  • If dry mouth is a problem, see a dentist. Dentists can prescribe artificial saliva and mouth moisturizers.
  • Visit the dentist twice a year for a checkup and cleaning. Caregivers can assist seniors with scheduling and transportation to their appointments.
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit snacks, particularly those with sugars and starches.

Senior Denture Care

Keep in mind that seniors who wear dentures still need regular professional dental care. Hygiene tips for denture wearers include:

  • Brush full or partial dentures daily with a soft toothbrush or denture cleaning brush and put in water each night. Use a commercially prepared denture powder or paste or baking soda. Brush them inside and out and rinse with cool water.
  • Brush remaining natural teeth and gums—and floss.
  • See a dental professional when there are changes in the way dentures fit.

For more information on dental health, visit the Canadian Dental Association’s website: www.cda-adc.ca/en/oral_health/index.asp.

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