6 Essential Oral Care Practices to Maintain Dental Health in Older Adults

Maintaining dental health is crucial for older adults as it can significantly impact their overall well-being and quality of life. Proper oral care helps prevent gum disease, cavities, and tooth sensitivity, and a dental exam may find other health issues that need attention.

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6 Essential Oral Care Practices to Maintain Dental Health in Older Adults
4 Min Read January 20th, 2024

As people age, maintaining good oral health becomes increasingly important. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to oral health problems such as gum disease, tooth decay, and dry mouth, which can significantly affect their overall well-being. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize effective oral care practices to ensure a healthy and comfortable oral environment.

As you age, the mouth undergoes changes that can lead to dental problems like cavities and gum disease. Dry mouth, often caused by medications and aging, reduces our mouth's natural defense against bacteria. Tooth enamel can wear thin, making teeth more prone to damage, and receding gums can expose sensitive tooth roots, making eating and drinking painful.

However, it's essential to know that maintaining good oral health is still possible as we get older. Dental professionals, including those at Ageless Smiles Dental Centre, can play a pivotal role in maintaining good oral health. 

Professor Catherine Bennett, Chief Dental Officer for Australia, says dental professionals can also find other health issues during a dental visit.

"Dentists are often the first healthcare providers to see signs of oral cancer, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, and even some autoimmune diseases."

From swollen gums hinting at potential heart issues to dry mouth potentially signifying Sjögren's syndrome, your dentist's keen eyes can become a window into your overall health, prompting further medical evaluation and early intervention.

Regular Dental Check-Ups

Regular dental check-ups are essential for maintaining good oral health as you age. Dentists can detect and address oral issues early, preventing complications that may occur if problems are ignored. It's recommended that older adults schedule dental visits at least twice a year or follow their dentist's recommended schedule. These appointments include professional cleanings to prevent plaque buildup and keep teeth and gums healthy.

Gentle and Regular Brushing

Proper brushing techniques are crucial for oral health, particularly for older adults with sensitive gums and teeth. Seniors should use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, brushing their teeth gently in circular motions twice a day. Giving extra attention to hard-to-reach spots and the tongue helps remove plaque and bacteria, reducing the risk of gum disease and cavities. It's important to note that a gentle brushing approach is essential, as aggressive brushing can cause gum recession and tooth sensitivity, which is especially relevant for aging individuals.

Denture Care

For seniors, particularly those with dentures, maintaining oral health is crucial for the longevity and overall oral hygiene of their dental prosthetics. Daily cleaning of dentures with a specialized brush and mild cleaning solutions, coupled with regular gum and natural teeth care, is essential. Regular dental checkups are also vital to ensure the dentures fit well and are in good condition, thus preventing discomfort and potential oral health issues.

Hydration plays a key role in oral health for older adults, especially for those experiencing dry mouth, a common issue often caused by medications or medical conditions. Drinking ample water throughout the day is necessary to maintain healthy saliva flow, which helps neutralize harmful acids and bacteria. Including fluoride-enriched water in the diet can further protect against tooth decay.

Reducing Sugary and Acidic Food

Dietary choices significantly impact oral health in older adults. Reducing the consumption of sugary and acidic foods is essential to prevent tooth decay and erosion. A balanced diet rich in nutrients and crunchy fruits and vegetables helps clean teeth naturally and stimulates saliva production.

In some cases, older adults might benefit from fluoride supplements, especially if they are at a higher risk for tooth decay. It's important to consult with a dentist to determine the need for fluoride supplements and the most appropriate form, whether it's toothpaste, mouthwash, or a prescription supplement. The dentist can also advise on the correct fluoride concentration for effective enamel strengthening and cavity prevention.

Sensitive Teeth and Dry Mouth

Addressing the specific oral health challenges of older adults, such as sensitive teeth, can be managed by using toothpaste designed for sensitivity and a soft-bristled toothbrush. For those with arthritis, electric toothbrushes with large handles and soft bristles are recommended. For hard-to-reach areas, angled or long-handled toothbrushes or tools suggested by a dentist can be effective.

Managing dry mouth involves staying hydrated and possibly using saliva substitutes or sugar-free gum. Lastly, dentures should be cleaned daily with a denture brush and appropriate cleaning agents, and it's equally important to maintain the cleanliness of gums and any remaining natural teeth.

Older adults can maintain optimal oral health and overall well-being through these comprehensive oral care practices, including regular dental checkups, gentle brushing techniques, proper hydration, mindful dietary habits, and fluoride supplements when necessary.

Why Oral Health Matters for Older Adults

The link between healthy teeth and gums and general well-being is well-established. Poor oral hygiene can fuel chronic infections, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even pneumonia. Furthermore, missing teeth or difficulty chewing can lead to malnutrition and weight loss, compounding underlying health conditions. 

The impact can be even more pronounced for older adults, affecting their ability to socialize, maintain independence, and enjoy life to the fullest.

So, what can adult children and long-term care facilities do to ensure good oral hygiene for their older loved ones?

At home:

  • Promote consistent brushing and flossing: Encourage twice-daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste and gentle flossing. Electric toothbrushes and water flossers can be helpful if dexterity is limited.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups: Ensure they visit the dentist at least twice a year for cleanings, exams, and early detection of potential problems.
  • Address dietary considerations: Offer soft, easy-to-chew foods if chewing is difficult. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks, which can exacerbate dental issues.
  • Assist with brushing or provide oral care: If dexterity or cognitive decline interferes with proper care, be ready to step in and assist with brushing and flossing or provide gentle mouth cleaning with a soft cloth and water.

In long-term care facilities:

  • Incorporate oral care into daily routines: Facilities should have trained staff or designated personnel responsible for ensuring residents receive proper oral hygiene care.
  • Utilize adaptive equipment: Provide assistive devices like electric toothbrushes and modified toothbrush handles for those with limited dexterity.
  • Monitor gum health and report concerns: Staff should be trained to identify signs of gum inflammation or oral infections and promptly inform families and health professionals.
  • Offer dietary options: Cater to different chewing abilities and provide nutritious, soft foods when necessary.

Remember, good oral health is not a luxury for older adults; it's an essential foundation for their overall well-being. By prioritizing dental care at home and ensuring proper dental hygiene practices in long-term care facilities, we can help our loved ones maintain their smiles, health, and independence for many years to come.

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About the Author

Victoria is a seasoned writer and strategist at EcomExperts, which is based in Australia. 

LTC News Contributor Victoria Schoof

Victoria Schoof

Contributor since January 20th, 2024

Editor's Note

Planning for aging, including purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance, is crucial for maintaining our quality of life as we age. By preparing for potential long-term care needs, you can access high-quality care services without placing an undue burden on your family. 

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If your loved one has the fortune of owning a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, it's crucial to encourage them to utilize it. An LTC policy opens the door to quality care. Occasionally, families delay using these benefits, hoping to reserve them for the future. However, postponing the use of available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits may not be the most prudent decision.

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