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Dental Care for Older Adults

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Using a toothbrush

Older adults with arthritis sometimes have trouble brushing their teeth because they cannot easily hold the toothbrush. Their hands and fingers may be stiff, painful, or weak. If this is the case, you can:

  • Enlarge the handle of your toothbrush by wrapping a sponge, an elastic bandage, or adhesive tape around it.
  • Push the toothbrush handle through a ball made of rubber or soft foam.
  • Make the handle longer and/or thicker by taping Popsicle sticks or tongue depressors to it.
  • Use an electric toothbrush.

You may also be able to buy specially designed toothbrushes, toothpaste dispensers, and floss holders.

Normal dental care

To keep your teeth and gums healthy:

  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day—in the morning and at night—and floss at least once a day. Plaque can quickly build up on the teeth of older adults.
  • Watch for the signs of gum disease. These include gums that bleed when you brush your teeth or when you eat harder foods, such as apples.
  • See your dentist regularly. Many experts recommend checkups every 6 months.
  • Keep your dentist up to date on any new medicines you are taking.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and is low in saturated fat and sodium. Good nutrition is vital to maintaining healthy gums and avoiding tooth decay.
  • Avoid using tobacco products. They can affect your dental health and your general health.

Many older adults have a fixed income and feel that they cannot afford dental care. But most towns and cities have programs in which dentists assist older adults by reducing fees. Contact your area's public health offices or social services for information about dental care in your community.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 07, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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