Dental Care for Older Adults
Dental care for older people is much the same as for younger adults. But older adults do have concerns that younger adults do not. These may include:
- Caring for dentures.
- Having trouble holding a toothbrush.
- Having gum disease.
- Having tooth decay on the roots of teeth.
- Replacing missing teeth and broken fillings.
Caregivers can help remind the people they are caring for to brush and floss their teeth or to clean their dentures. In some cases, caregivers may need to do the brushing and other care. People who have trouble using their hands or who have dementia may need this extra help.
Keeping teeth and gums healthy
To keep your teeth and gums healthy:
- Brush and floss your teeth every day.
Brush the teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day—in the morning and at night—and floss at least once a day.
Plaque can quickly build up on the teeth of older adults.
- Watch for the signs of gum disease.
These signs include gums that bleed after brushing or after eating hard foods, such as apples.
- See a dentist regularly.
Many experts recommend checkups every 6 months.
- Keep the dentist up to date on any new medicines you are taking.
- Eat healthy foods.
Eat a balanced diet that includes whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and that is low in saturated fat and sodium. Good nutrition is vital to maintaining healthy gums and avoiding tooth decay.
- Avoid using tobacco products.
They can affect dental and general health.
- Seek financial help if you cannot afford dental care.
Many older adults have a fixed income and feel that they can't afford dental care. But most towns and cities have programs in which dentists help older adults by reducing fees. Contact your area's public health offices or social services for information about dental care in your community.
Making brushing more comfortable
Older adults with arthritis sometimes have trouble brushing their teeth because they can't easily hold the toothbrush. Their hands and fingers may be stiff, painful, or weak. If this is the case:
- Use an electric toothbrush.
- Enlarge the handle of a non-electric toothbrush by wrapping a sponge, an elastic bandage, or adhesive tape around it.
- Push the toothbrush handle through a ball made of rubber or soft foam.
- Make the handle longer and thicker by taping Popsicle sticks or tongue depressors to it.
You may also be able to buy specially designed toothbrushes, toothpaste dispensers, and floss holders.
Your doctor may recommend a soft-bristle toothbrush if you or the person you care for bleeds easily. Bleeding can happen because of a health problem or from certain medicines.
A toothpaste for sensitive teeth may help if you or the person you care for has sensitive teeth.
Dentures are sets of artificial teeth that replace missing teeth. Some removable dentures replace all the teeth in the upper or lower jaw, or both. This type is called a complete denture. Other dentures may replace just some teeth. This type is called a partial denture or a bridge.
Care for your dentures as you would care for your natural teeth. Plaque, a thin film of bacteria, can form on the surface of your dentures and gums. Keeping your dentures and gums clean can help prevent discomfort, infection, and bad breath.
To care for your dentures every day:
- Stand over a folded towel or bowl of water when you or your caregiver takes the dentures out. This way, if you drop them, they won't break.
- Store them in lukewarm water or denture-cleaning liquid overnight. Don't put them in hot water, and don't let them dry out.
- Clean your dentures to help prevent stains and help your mouth stay healthy.
- Take your dentures out of your mouth, and rinse them to remove any loose food.
- Use a brush designed for cleaning dentures, or use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Wet the brush, and gently brush every surface of your dentures with a denture cleanser such as Efferdent or Polident. Don't use toothpaste or a brush with hard bristles. They can scratch the dentures. You can use hand soap or mild dishwashing liquid, but don't use abrasive household cleaners or bleach.
To care for your mouth every day:
- Leave your dentures out at least 6 hours at night. This gives your gums a chance to rest.
- If your gums are red or swollen, let them heal before you put your dentures in again.
- Brush your gums, your tongue, and the roof of your mouth with a soft-bristled brush.
To avoid problems with your dentures:
- Don't use dentures that are too big, that click when you eat, or that don't feel good. Talk to your dentist about fitting them again. Don't try to "fix" your dentures yourself.
- Get your dentures adjusted regularly to help ensure a snug fit. The shape of your gums and the bones in your jaw can change over time. Your dentures may lose their fit. A denture adhesive may help hold them in place for a while. But dentures that fit well shouldn't need an adhesive.
- Think about replacing them about every 5 years. Daily use can wear dentures out.
If you have denture implants, you can care for them just like you would your original teeth.
See your dentist as often as they recommend.