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Dental Care for Seniors

Advancing age puts many seniors at risk for a number of oral health problems, such as:

  • Darkened teeth. Caused, to some extent, by changes in dentin -- the bone-like tissue that underlies the tooth enamel -- and by a lifetime of consuming stain-causing foods and beverages. Also caused by thinning of the outer enamel layer that lets the darker yellower dentin show through.
  • Dry mouth. Dry mouth is caused by reduced saliva flow, which can be a result of cancer treatments that use radiation to the head and neck area, as well as certain diseases, such as Sjögren's syndrome, and medication side effects. Many medicines can cause dry mouth.
  • Diminished sense of taste. While advancing age impairs the sense of taste, diseases, medications, and dentures can also contribute to this sensory loss.
  • Root decay. This is caused by exposure of the tooth root to decay-causing acids. The tooth roots become exposed as gum tissue recedes from the tooth. Roots do not have any enamel to protect them and are more prone to decay than the crown part of the tooth.
  • Gum disease. Caused by plaque and made worse by food left in teeth, use of tobacco products, poor-fitting bridges and dentures, poor diets, and certain diseases, such as anemia, cancer, and diabetes, this is often a problem for older adults.
  • Tooth loss. Gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss.
  • Uneven jawbone. This is caused by tooth and then not replacing missing teeth. This allows the rest of the teeth to drift and shift into open spaces
  • Denture-induced stomatitis. Ill-fitting dentures, poor dental hygiene, or a buildup of the fungus Candida albicans cause this condition, which is inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture.
  • Thrush. Diseases or drugs that affect the immune system can trigger the overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans in the mouth.

Age in and of itself is not a dominant or sole factor in determining oral health. However, certain medical conditions, such as arthritis in the hands and fingers, may make brushing or flossing teeth difficult to impossible to perform. Drugs can also affect oral health and may make a change in your dental treatment necessary.

Recommended Related to Oral Health

Bad Breath: Good and Bad Foods

Got bad breath? You may want to take a look at your diet. If your dental hygiene is great -- you brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and clean your tongue -- your bad breath could be linked to your diet. Certain foods can taint your breath for hours and contribute to dragon breath in other ways. Here are some of the culprits: Garlic and onions. "Garlic and onions top the list when it comes to halitosis," says Lisa Harper Mallonee, MPH, RD, associate professor at Texas A&M...

Read the Bad Breath: Good and Bad Foods article > >

Oral Hygiene Tips for Seniors

Daily brushing and flossing of natural teeth is essential to keeping them in good oral health. Plaque can build up quickly on the teeth of seniors, especially if oral hygiene is neglected, and lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

To maintain good oral health, it's important for all individuals -- regardless of age -- to:

  • Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste
  • Floss at least once a day
  • Visit your dentist on a regular schedule for cleaning and an oral exam

Antibacterial mouth rinse can reduce bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease, according to the American Dental Association.

WebMD Medical Reference

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How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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