We have oral health concerns for older adults, so we have some information and tips to consider as part of healthy aging. We’ve talked about a diet filled with fruits and vegetables and improving your brushing and flossing technique, which will help your oral health in the long run. But let’s review more focused information concerning your oral health as you get older, or as your parents or loved ones get older.
Don’t retire your dental benefits when you retire from work
Most of us plan for retirement as best we can, but sometimes those plans do not include funds for dental benefits. Since most lose their employer-sponsored dental insurance when they retire and Medicare doesn’t cover dental, many older adults don’t visit the dentist. We don’t want that to happen.
According to a 2012 study, almost 70% of people age 65 and older have gum disease, and gum disease is the most common reason for tooth loss among seniors. Despite issues like cavities, in the same study, about a quarter of adults 65 and older haven’t seen the dentist in the past five years, missing valuable cleanings and oral health exams. In addition to cleaning teeth at each exam, dentists should screen for oral cancer, periodontal disease and other mouth problems that become more common in older individuals. This is why it’s important to keep those appointments.
Consider putting away money for dental benefits when you plan your retirement accounts. Also, maintain your good oral health routines like brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing daily. Whatever your plans are, make sure oral health is a part of your healthy aging.
Is your new medication also a prescription for oral health issues?
As we age, some of us may face health issues that require medication, and your prescriptions can have negative effects on your oral health. One of the most common side effects from medications is dry mouth. This condition deprives the mouth of saliva, which plays a critical role in preventing tooth decay. To help with this, drink plenty of water and limit caffeine and alcohol.
Canker sores, a metallic taste in the mouth, discolored teeth, and “gingival overgrowth” (when gums swell and start to grow over teeth) are other side effects to medication. Consult your doctor and dentist for guidance and more information. Also, it’s important to keep dentists up to date on medications, vitamins and supplements you’re taking so they can monitor your oral health for side effects. If you notice any changes in your oral health, contact your physician or dentist right away.
How to help a loved one maintain their oral health
Besides encouraging an older loved one to maintain dentist visits and the routine of brushing and flossing daily, for those with a friend or family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s, here are a few tips to consider:
- Keep step-by-step directions for brushing and flossing near the bathroom sink.
- Provide a toothbrush with a wider handle or an electric toothbrush with a timer so your loved one knows how long to brush.
- Notice any discomfort or pain your family member may have during meals or while brushing or flossing teeth.
- If your loved one is in a full-time care facility, ask how they handle dental care and dental visits.
- As discussed above, remind your loved one to drink water throughout the day to help with dry mouth, a side effect to many medications. Dry mouth can cause plaque build-up and lead to gum disease.
Learn about other dental concerns and ways to counteract them.