Dental Care for Older Adults: FAQ

Your teeth and gums work hard for you your whole life. As you get older, they need a little extra attention.

Even if you take good care of your teeth and gums, it's a good idea to know about oral health problems that can crop up and ways your dentist can help.

Here are answers to questions you might have.

1. Now that I’m older, I can’t get cavities. Right?

Wrong. They’re not just for kids. In fact, cavities happen more often in adults.

Here’s why:

  • Fluoride wasn’t always in water supplies and toothpaste. If you didn't get enough when you were younger, your teeth may pay the price.
  • Old fillings are prime spots for tooth decay.
  • As we get older, our gums tend to recede, leaving tooth roots exposed. Without the protection of tooth enamel, they are more susceptible to decay.
  • You might have dry mouth. This can be a side effect of medications or a condition. Saliva does more than keep your mouth wet -- it protects teeth from decay, helps heal sores in your mouth, and prevents infections.

2. My mouth is in pretty good shape, but my teeth are super sensitive to hot and cold. What's going on?

This can happen to anyone, at any age. Your gum tissue pulls back from your teeth, uncovering some of the root. This can make the area sensitive to temperature extremes.

As a quick fix, use a fluoride mouth rinse, or switch to a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth. If your problem is more serious, your dentist may seal or bond the roots. He might recommend a soft tissue graft. This procedure uses material, either man-made or from another area of your mouth, to cover exposed roots.

3. Can I still get braces, even though I’m an older adult?

There's no age limit for correcting misaligned (crooked) teeth. If you want to improve your appearance or bite, a dentist or orthodontist can fit you for braces. It’s more common than you think.

4. My teeth sometimes feel loose. What can I do?

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This can happen for many reasons. It could be a bite or clenching issue. It may be a sign of bone loss from gum disease. Talk to your dentist.

You may need to see a periodontist, a doctor who specializes in the mouth's gums and bones. Be ready to discuss your medical history and your oral hygiene habits.

Certain conditions like diabetes can also affect your gums and teeth.

5. I’ve been smoking for a long time. What does that mean for my oral health?

You're likely to have bad breath and stained teeth, for starters. And it might take longer to recover from a pulled tooth and periodontal treatment. But the harsh reality of long-term smoking is that it raises the chances of oral cancer. And so does your age.

If you find a wound or sore area on your tongue or anywhere in your mouth, have it examined and keep a close eye on it.

6. I want to take my friend to get a dental treatment, but she has dementia. What should I do?

Make the appointment for early in the day, when your friend is most alert. Also, make sure to tell her where she is going and why. And let the dentist know ahead of time about your friend's condition. Communication will make the visit easier. If possible, have one of your friend's family members go with you to the appointment. They can make treatment decisions if she can't.

It's best for someone with dementia to see a dentist as soon as possible after they're diagnosed. And if any procedures are needed, they should get them done as soon as possible. That way, as the disease gets worse, your friend should only need easier maintenance treatments

7. Why do I have to go to the dentist if I have no teeth?

It’s a good idea to visit the dentist at least once a year for a full oral exam. As you age, you might have issues but not know it.

Your doctor can look for signs of oral cancer and other medical problems of the mouth, head, and neck. You also need to have dentures checked for fit, and routinely cleaned.

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8. My dentures used to feel great, but now they’re uncomfortable. Is there anything I can do?

It’s normal for your gums and the supporting bones in your mouth to change shape as you age. This can make your dentures feel loose.

Dentures are made to fit perfectly, so if you feel a looseness, it’s likely they need to be adjusted to make them fit again. See your dentist as soon as possible. For a temporary fix, use a denture adhesive to keep them stable until your appointment.

Don’t try to change the shape of your dentures yourself. Even if you think you can make them fit better, you could end up damaging them.

9. Does my dentist need to know the medications I’m taking?

Yes. Each time you visit your dentist, tell her about all the medications you use.

Before you go, write a list of all the drugs you take, include their doses and how often you take them. Over-the-counter products, herbal products, and supplements should go on the list, too. Bring this information to the dentist when you have an appointment. She will use it to make a treatment plan for you.

It also helps them to know everything about your recent medical history, including hospital stays, surgeries, recent illnesses, or changes in your health since your last visit.

10. I've heard that dental implants are an alternative to dentures. What should I know about them?

The good news is, older adults are keeping their natural teeth longer. But some people will need dentures, bridges, or another option like dental implants.

These devices offer a strong foundation for fixed (permanent) or removable replacement teeth. The implants have an artificial tooth root that the surgeon puts into your jaw to hold a tooth or bridge in place.

They may be a good option if you lost a tooth or teeth due to periodontal disease, or an injury. But they're not for everyone. You need to have healthy gums and enough bone to hold the implant in place. Talk to your dentist to see if they're right for you.

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11. I have a hard time brushing my teeth because I have arthritis in my hands. What can you recommend?

You can do several things:

  • Try a battery- or electric-powered toothbrush if you feel strong enough.
  • Get a toothbrush with a larger handle, so it’s easier to grip.
  • Try a dental floss aid or alternative

Talk to your dentist or dental hygienist. They may be able to suggest a good product for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on August 23, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Consumer Guide to Dentistry: ''Senior Dental Care.''

American Academy of Periodontology.

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

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