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Seniors Can Prevent Dental Problems with Proper Oral Hygiene

Every time I go to the grocery store these days, I remember the adage, “Halloween must have been created by a dentist.” There are shelves stacked and loaded with multiple-sized bags of candy in almost any combination of sweet treats to be shared with Halloween trick-or-treaters.

I must admit, I do buy candy as treats for Halloween, but I always try to get a combination that my husband and I like, so we can treat ourselves, too!

Unfortunately, this practice can easily become a habit of sugar-loading that can negatively impact our teeth.

My 80-year-old aunt is diabetic, but she must have candy or sweets every day. They’re not sugar-free treats, either. She prefers practically anything that includes chocolate. It’s because of her “sweet tooth” that she’s had all of her teeth removed and replaced with dental implants twice. The last time she underwent the expensive procedure, she endured several complications that required multiple visits to her dental surgeon. She’s fine now, fortunately, and she continues to satisfy her addiction to sweets to this day.

Thankfully, my aunt’s oral health has improved with dental implants, but those are expensive and are not always an option for the average senior. Additionally, other factors like socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, cognitive decline, arthritis, and certain medications can influence the lack of oral hygiene by seniors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds, “Being disabled, homebound, or institutionalized (e.g., seniors who live in nursing homes) also increases the risk of poor oral health. Adults 50 years and older who smoke are also less likely to get dental care than people who do not smoke. Many older Americans do not have dental insurance because they lost their benefits upon retirement and the federal Medicare program does not cover routine dental care.”

Poor oral hygiene can lead to the following dental problems:

  • Untreated tooth decay. 96% of people aged 65 years or older have had a cavity and 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay.
  • Gum disease. About 68% or 2 in 3 adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease.
  • Tooth loss. Nearly 1 in 5 adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth. Complete tooth loss is twice as prevalent among adults aged 75 and older (26%) compared with adults aged 65-74 (13%).Having missing teeth or wearing dentures can also affect nutrition because people without teeth or with dentures often prefer soft, easily chewed foods instead of more nutritious foods like fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Oral cancer. Cancers of the mouth (oral and pharyngeal cancers) are primarily diagnosed in older adults with the average age at diagnosis being 62 years.
  • Chronic disease. People with chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more likely to develop gum (periodontal) disease, but they are less likely to get dental care than adults without these chronic conditions. Seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other cognitive challenges will likely forget to brush their teeth, or remove and soak their dentures, without the assistance of a family member, friend, or caregiver.
  • Xerostomia(Dry Mouth). The majority of older Americans take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs which can cause dry mouth or Xerostomia. As saliva flow decreases, the risk of cavities increases.

For seniors to prevent dental problems, the American Dental Association (ADA) offers these guidelines for improved oral hygiene:

  • Brush twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use an electric toothbrush for better cleaning.
  • Floss or use another inter-dental cleaning device to remove food from between teeth.
  • Rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash at least once a day.
  • Clean full or partial dentures daily by removing them at night, soaking in a cleansing solution overnight, and replacing them in the morning using denture adhesive as needed.
  • Drink tap water since it most likely contains fluoride to help prevent tooth decay
  • Quit smoking and stop dipping tobacco, because tobacco use increases the risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
  • Visit the dentist on a regular basis (every six months) for a complete dental check-up, oral exam, and cleaning.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes dairy and high-fiber foods.

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting you neglect to treat yourself to some Halloween candy or the sweet treats that will abound during the upcoming holiday season. On the contrary, I recommend practicing moderation over sugar-loading, and I am encouraging seniors to follow the ADA guidelines for better oral hygiene to avoid dental problems for better oral health.

If you or a senior you know could benefit from the assistance of a highly skilled and trained caregiver to help with proper dental hygiene practices, transportation assistance to/from the dentist, or meal preparation for a healthier diet, I offer a FREE consultation to assess specific needs and discuss the many ways Home Helpers can make life easier.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award 2016-2022 and the Best of Home Care® Employer of Choice Award 2022. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson, and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠  (727) 942-2539