Oral Care for Seniors
No matter what age you are, the health of your mouth is a critical piece of your overall health. With a healthy mouth, you will have no problem eating the foods that you love and need for proper nutrition. You’ll also be unafraid to smile, talk, and laugh, helping you get the social interaction you need for your mental health and mood, and maintain a good sense of self esteem. If you neglect your teeth, eventually they’ll go away, so proper care and regular dentist visits are essential for keeping them for your lifetime. Many people have the perception that teeth are the same as bones, but this is inaccurate. Your teeth have a hard outer coating covering them called enamel. Each day, a thin film of bacteria that is called “plaque” builds up on teeth. Over time, if left unattended, this bacteria can eat holes in the enamel, which are known as cavities. Brushing and flossing regularly will remove this film, preventing tooth decay. Once a cavity happens, however, it can’t be reversed and a dentist has to fix it.
Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along the gumline, where teeth erupt from the gums. This plaque, if untreated, causes infections that can damage the gums, the connective tissue, and the underlying jaw bone that holds teeth in place. Gum disease will make gums red, tender, and more likely to bleed, usually when brushing or eating. The first phase of symptoms for gum disease are called gingivitis, which is fortunately reversible and can be remedied with improved daily care, chiefly better brushing and flossing. Other, more serious, gum diseases will need to be treated by a dentist, to prevent infections from destroying the bones and tissues that support your teeth, leading to tooth loss. The following actions can be taken to prevent gum disease:
- Brush your teeth for two minutes, twice a day, with fluoride toothpaste
- Floss once daily
- Visit your dentist twice a year for checkups and professional cleanings
- Eat a well balanced diet, low in sugars and sweets
- Quitting smoking will reduce your risk of gum disease, as well as many other diseases.
There is also a right way to brush your teeth. Gently brush them on all sides with a soft bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste. Use small, circular motions and short back and forth strokes. Brush carefully along the gum line. And finally, lightly brush your tongue to keep your mouth clean. Careful flossing is also necessary to take care of plaque and leftover food between your teeth.
Seniors suffering from arthritis or other mobility issues may find that with limited hand function, engaging in the daily practice of oral hygiene is prohibitively difficult. To help with limited grip strength, a toothbrush with a larger handle can be used, or using an elastic band to help secure it to the hand can be helpful. A manual toothbrush can also be swapped out for an electric toothbrush, removing the need to manually move the brush across and around the teeth.