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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 can't easily hold the toothbrush. Their hands and fingers may be stiff, painful, or weak. If this is the case:

  • Use an electric toothbrush.
  • Enlarge the handle of a non-electric 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 thicker by taping Popsicle sticks or tongue depressors to it.

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

Your doctor may recommend a soft-bristle toothbrush if you or the person you care for bleeds easily. Bleeding can happen because of a health problem or from certain medicines.

A toothpaste for sensitive teeth may help if you or the person you care for has sensitive teeth.

Normal dental care

To keep the teeth and gums healthy:

  • Brush the 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 signs include gums that bleed after brushing or after eating hard foods, such as apples.
  • See a dentist regularly. Many experts recommend checkups every 6 months.
  • Keep the dentist up to date on any new medicines you are taking.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and that 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 dental and general health.

Many older adults have a fixed income and feel that they can't afford dental care. But most towns and cities have programs in which dentists help 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: November 14, 2014
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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