Dental care for seniors

There is no reason seniors cannot keep their teeth for a lifetime, since tooth loss is simply the result of an oral disease – not the aging process. Many seniors do not visit a dentist even once a year – one of the key preventive strategies in ensuring that teeth last a lifetime. Keeping up with the good dental habits that promote healthy teeth and gums should be a top priority as we age. Daily brushing and flossing are as important as ever in later years, as seniors are more likely to experience gum disease, and tooth discoloration caused by a deterioration of enamel and dentin, and oral health issues that stem from other diseases or medications.


Regular dental visits are especially important for seniors since many suffer from dry mouth, which slows down the flow of saliva. All throughout our lives, carbohydrate foods team up with bacteria in the mouth to produce cavity-forming acids. Saliva plays a major role in preventing tooth decay by rinsing away food particles and neutralizing harmful acids. Dry mouth often comes with old age, but can also be caused by medications like antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants and diuretics.


Seniors often have receding gums that expose the sensitive roots of the teeth to cavities. These cavities should be filled as soon as possible to avoid further damage to the teeth. To reduce the risk of cavities, it is recommended to use fluoride toothpaste and a mouth-rinse containing fluoride.  Avoid snacks containing sugars and starches as much as possible.


Gum disease (Periodontal disease) is the main reason people lose their teeth. Gum disease is caused by plaque, a bacterial film that continuously forms around the teeth. Although gum disease is often painless until it is very advanced, some signs of gum disease include: bleeding gums after brushing your teeth, persistent bad breath; swollen gums; loose teeth; a change in the fit of partial dentures.
The effects of gum disease become cumulative as we age. Your dentist or hygienist can clean the plaque and tartar under the gumline to help reduce the damage of gum disease. As with cavity prevention, daily brushing and flossing are essential. Regular dental cleanings and dental exams are important. Seniors with gum disease should see their dentist 4 times a year.


Following these preventive measures should help prevent seniors from having to wear dentures. But even seniors with no teeth still need to visit the dentist regularly, since many aspects of oral health, such as adjusting ill-fitting dentures and oral cancer screenings, can be handled at routine dental visits. Seniors who have worn dentures for many years may find that they don’t seem to fit as well anymore. Loose dentures make it difficult to eat and speak (they seem to make a “clacking” noise), and do not support the face as well. Your dentist can sometimes remedy the problem by relining the denture, but a new denture should be made every 5-7 years, or when the dentures cannot be used comfortably.


Here is a great video on dental care for seniors:



By: Ladan Zinati


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