What seniors need to know about dental healthcare

Getting older does not mean you outgrow maintaining healthy habits. This is especially true when it comes to the topic of dental health. As people age, proper oral hygiene and regular dental care can not only save your smile, but improve the quality of your life.  According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), 25 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 have severe gum disease. Because gum disease damages the bone and tissue surrounding the teeth, tooth loss can result if it’s left untreated. Tooth loss can negatively impact your appearance, ability to communicate clearly and the way you eat.

Aging does not have to mean gum disease and tooth loss, if you continue to practice good dental care habits. It is important to brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristle toothbrush. Flossing helps maintain teeth by removing plaque in hard to reach places between the teeth and below the gum line.  If you find it difficult to brush and/or floss due to arthritis or a physical disability, you may need to make some adaptations to make your dental care routine easier. Try attaching your toothbrush to a larger object, such as a foam tube, to make it easier to grip or switch to an electric toothbrush.

Caring for your dentures

If you have already experienced tooth loss, dentures can be extremely helpful in filling out the appearance of your face and making it easier to eat and speak. However, it’s important to take care of your dentures just as you would care for your natural teeth. Rinse dentures before brushing them to remove food or debris. Use a non-abrasive toothpaste that is specially made for dentures and make sure you clean them on a daily basis. Always brush your dentures and your mouth with a soft bristle toothbrush. Try to thoroughly clean your mouth — including your gums, cheeks, roof of the mouth and tongue — to remove bacteria and plaque. If you have partial dentures, be sure to floss between the implants before you put the dentures back in. When you are not wearing your dentures, put them in a safe place covered in water to keep them from warping.

Options for dental care

In addition to regularly practicing dental hygiene at home, seeing a dental healthcare professional at least twice a year helps to maintain the condition of your teeth and gums and prevent serious dental problems. However, seeing a dentist can be costly if you are on a fixed income or do not have dental insurance coverage. Some dental schools have clinics where students get experience treating patients at a reduced cost. Qualified dentists supervise the students. If your community has a dental school or the local college offers a dental hygienist program, call and inquire about free or reduced cost dental care. The local county or state health department may also be a good resource to help find nearby dental clinics that charge based on income.