In most ways, oral health care doesn't change with age. Whether you're a child or a senior citizen, taking care of your teeth is important. However, after a lifetime of chewing food, drinking liquids and having dental work, senior citizens have some oral health concerns more common to them than others. While increased rates of dental disease are being seen among seniors as the population ages, advances in science and dentistry have resulted in new oral health products designed to aid senior citizens.
Tooth Discoloration and Seniors
Over time, smoking or consuming foods and beverages like colas and coffee can stain and darken teeth. Teeth that look grey, yellowish or less white reflect, to a certain extent, the color of the dentin underneath the tooth enamel. Although tooth enamel is translucent, it can also become stained. Having your teeth regularly cleaned and polished by your dentist can remove much of the surface stains, but over-the-counter products can also be of great assistance during the intervals between cleanings. Seniors should look into toothpastes that whiten teeth as well as kits that can be used to bleach teeth at home. As with all oral care products, it is a good idea to discuss them with your dentist prior to use.
Bad Breath and Seniors
Most bad breath is the result of bacteria that decay and release odor-causing gases in the mouth. Food particles that get trapped in the mouth provide the medium for bacteria to grow on and release gases, creating bad breath. These food particles can lodge on the tongue, between the teeth and in dental apparatuses. Bacteria grow particularly well in mouths lacking enough saliva and those with decaying teeth.
Seniors can be particularly susceptible to bad breath because they are prone to such things as having dry mouth, dentures or other dental devices such as bridges and crowns, and gum diseases such as periodontitis or gingivitis. Age may also have brought medical conditions like diabetes, cancer or acid reflux that contribute to bad breath. Even medications such as over-the-counter decongestants can contribute to bad breath because they have a drying effect on the mouth.
There are several common sense things seniors can do for themselves to help avoid bad breath. Brushing and flossing two or three times a day can remove the food particles that bacteria depend on from teeth and any dental devices you may have. When you brush, gently scrape your tongue with your toothbrush to eliminate any particles that might be lodged there. Remove and clean dentures at least daily.
Be aware that there are over-the-counter mouthwashes and toothpastes that take a new approach to the problem of bad breath. A mouthwash with alcohol in it isn't the best solution to getting rid of bad breath bacteria because alcohol has a drying effect inside the mouth. There are now products on the market like TheraBreath® Oral Rinse that not only lack alcohol but have ingredients that specially target the anaerobic bacteria that cause bad breath and prevent dry mouth.
Dry Mouth and Seniors
Dry mouth is not only unpleasant and uncomfortable but can actually damage teeth by promoting decay and infections if you don't pay attention. Among the many potential causes of dry mouth are basic things like not drinking sufficient water or not eating frequently enough to keep an adequate flow of saliva in your mouth. Diseases that affect the salivary glands such as Sjogren's syndrome, as well as diabetes and some cancer treatments can also cause dry mouth. If you are on medications for cholesterol, high blood pressure, pain or allergies, those may also contribute to not producing enough saliva.
Gum Disease and Seniors
As a senior citizen, it is just as important to take care of your gums as it is your teeth. Gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss if left untreated and is often a problem for adults as they age. Although gum disease may be reversible if caught early, it is best if you prevent it from developing by carefully following the principles of good oral hygiene. Gum disease begins as a problem with bacteria-containing plaque, which constantly forms on teeth. Without good hygiene, the bacteria in plaque will eventually harm the gums and the bones surrounding your teeth. In addition to brushing and flossing to remove plaque, over-the-counter oral health products are available that specifically target plaque. A dentist can also advise you on products for plaque removal and may prescribe special rinses that fight the germs that cause gum disease.
Physical Limitations and Oral Health Products for Seniors
As you age, dexterity and eyesight may become problems. Should this happen, this may affect your ability to brush, floss and keep up with good dental hygiene techniques. It can become harder to hold a toothbrush, floss or even to see clearly. Magnification mirrors and a bright light can be helpful in performing oral hygiene routines.
Fortunately, there are also oral care products available that can help seniors with dexterity difficulties perform daily brushing and flossing. One product to consider is investing in a power toothbrush. These usually have larger handles and may be easier to hold. Many come with soft brushes or settings that are suitable for more sensitive, older teeth and gums. Maneuvering floss can become challenging as a senior. Floss picks with plastic handles are available that can make daily flossing easier. There are also products that use water to flush between teeth and clean around crowns and bridges that may be useful. These oral health products can help you keep your teeth healthy even as you get older. Discuss them with your dentist to see if they are suitable for you.
Tips for Oral Care for Seniors
- See your dentist regularly for checkups and advice
- Continue to practice good oral hygiene
- Use teeth whitening products for stained or discolored teeth
- Avoid bad breath with products that target odor-causing bacteria
- Stay hydrated
- Chew sugarless gum or use sugarless candy containing Xylitol to increase saliva and reduce bad breath
- Use plaque-removing toothpastes or rinses to avoid gum disease
- Consider using alternative products for brushing and flossing