The population of older people continues to increase worldwide; according to the Oral Health Foundation, around one in 12 people are now over 65, and this is expected to double in the next 30 years1. Similarly, older people are now supported by improved dental care and treatments, meaning we are likely to keep our own teeth for longer with good hygiene.
However, as we age, ‘bone density and immune systems naturally weaken and it makes it easier for issues such as gum disease and tooth loss to develop’2. The following overview of dental care specifically for older adults aims to ensure that the elderly have a better understanding of how best to maintain good oral health later in life.
Looking after your teeth is important at any age, but elderly people may face a number of problems that could impact their ability to maintain good oral health – leaving them vulnerable to developing dental problems that can further impact their general health. They may lose the dexterity needed to clean their teeth properly as well as a decline in their eyesight, or a loss of memory may mean they require prompting to clean their teeth regularly3.
Gum disease and tooth decay
Gum disease and tooth decay can be prevented at any age, but it is possible that gums may recede (shrink) as you get older4. Gum disease occurs when plaque builds up where the gum meets the teeth, causing an infection. If an older person is struggling to maintain a regular oral hygiene routine, plaque is more likely to build up and they are at risk of developing gum disease. Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Bleeding gums when you brush your teeth, floss or eat hard foods like apples
- Swollen, red or sore gums
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- An unpleasant taste in the mouth6
For the same reason, they can also be at risk of developing tooth decay – especially if your gums have slightly receded and the ‘neck’ of the tooth is not protected by enamel4. It is important to remove all of the plaque from your teeth twice a day, cleaning in between your teeth using floss or interdental brushes, and to cut down on sugary foods and drinks in order to avoid decay.
If you wear dentures to replace lost or missing teeth, it is also important to regularly clean them and be wary of dropping or breaking them. Brush and soak your dentures every day, and sue a non-abrasive denture cleaner, not toothpaste5. You should be able to use your dentures for several years if you treat them well, but they will need to be relined or remade eventually due to changes in your mouth and normal wear5.
The most important way to take care of your dental health as you get older is to regularly attend check-ups at the dentist, and consult your dental team with any issues that may affect your ability to take care of your teeth yourself. For more information on how you can take care of your teeth and more on National Smile Month, visit dentallaw.co.uk or the Oral Health Foundation official website, linked below.
- Oral Health Foundation 1
- Oral Health Foundation 2
- Oral Health Foundation 3
- Oral Health Foundation 4