Dental Care for Seniors

In light of better access to health care, it has been found that the amount of elderly people in South Africa obtaining quality healthcare has dramatically increased and as a result, majority of senior citizens are no longer completely toothless, with many people retaining some or all of their teeth well into their old-age.

As people become older, they are afflicted by many general health conditions that affect not only the health of their teeth and oral tissues but also their ability to care for their teeth, dentures and general dental care. Some of these conditions include diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Treatment of these conditions usually involves multiple drugs that have their own side effects, which tend to compromise both the quantity and quality of saliva produced. As a result, senior citizens are at risk for the development of tooth decay, gum disease and spontaneous infections of the mouth, such as oral thrush. This is further worsened by a decreasing ability to properly care for their teeth and gums due to limited manual mobility.

Dental care for the elderly needs an all-round approach:

Teeth should be brushed twice daily with a soft, small head toothbrush for the purpose of caring for the added tooth sensitivity. In people with limited mobility, an electric toothbrush can be very useful, although pricier than the conventional toothbrush. It is important to make sure that all surfaces of each tooth are reached and cleaned so that the gaps where teeth are missing are not neglected. Daily flossing remains highly important for cleaning between teeth, especially after every meal. There are toothbrushes called inter-dental toothbrushes, which may be used to clean in-between teeth in the spaces where weak mobility might not allow you to floss. It is vital to clean the tongue to reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth using either a toothbrush or tongue scraper. It is also advised that the elderly massage the inner lining of their cheeks, palate surfaces and open areas to stimulate blood flow to the tissues.

Denture care must include daily cleansing with commercially available denture cleansers and a soft brush. Dentures should be replaced every 3 years because the tissues where teeth have been lost are constantly changing, resulting in dentures loosening and falling out.

Elderly people must visit their dentists at least twice a year and follow through on their prescribed treatment plans to ensure optimal dental care. Dental care directly influences general health and ones’ sense of well-being. It is vital to appreciate that maintaining optimal dental care is not only the responsibility of the dentist. Individuals must maintain a good oral hygiene regimen at home and ensure that they attend their dentists regularly and follow the treatment plans prescribed by their dentists to maintain optimal dental care.

How to keep up good dental hygiene as you get older

Good dental hygiene and care habits are important at any age. But as you get older, you might find yourself wondering whether your dental routine needs some tweaking, or if certain life changes have also caused changes in your mouth. Whether you have all of your original teeth, some of them or a full set of dentures, diligently caring for your mouth is just as important when you get older as it was when you were a kid.

Fluoride Is Still Important

Fluoride isn’t just for children. Even if you’re over 50, it’s still important to protect the surface of your teeth and guard your teeth against decay. The Mayo Clinic notes that older individuals have an increased risk for cavities, making it more important for you to ensure that fluoride is a part of your daily routine. When brushing – twice a day – use a fluoride toothpaste. Drinking fluoridated tap water can also help you defend against tooth decay as you get older.

Watch Out for Dry Mouth

Although getting older doesn’t necessarily make your mouth dry, certain factors of ageing, such as more regular medications or a chronic condition, can increase the risk of dry mouth – along with cavities or tooth decay. A dry mouth can also affect the way in which your dentures fit, the mobility of your jaw and according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, it may also cause chafing between the dentures and your gums.

If you suffer from dry mouth, there are a few improvements you can make to your dental hygiene to reduce your symptoms. You can use a moisturising mouthwash or spray, or chew sugar-free gum, which encourages the production of saliva. You can also consult your doctor or dentist if your dry mouth is caused by medication. Adjusting your dose or trying a new medicine can help alleviate certain symptoms.
A healthy smile looks great at any age. Keeping up with good hygiene habits, visiting your dentist regularly and making changes to your routine as your body changes will help you keep a great-looking smile for life. Call 0861 55 55 22, email or visit for more information.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general dental care topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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