Seniors are living longer than ever before. Advances in oral health care prevention and disease treatment mean that many seniors will have some or all of their natural teeth.
When we age, teeth undergo changes. Sometimes these changes are affected by chronic diseases and the use of medications.
Some changes may include:
Sensitive teeth - teeth can be sensitive to hot or cold foods and/or touch
Exposed roots - gums may start to pull away from your teeth as you age. Exposed roots are exposed to bacteria that can cause cavities
Darker or yellower teeth - the colour of teeth naturally changes with age. Also, consuming teeth-staining food and drink over a lifetime can change the colour of teeth. Plaque also builds up faster as we age and can accumulate stains
Oral health and your general health
Maintaining good oral health is important throughout life for overall health and well-being.
Good oral hygiene can help prevent the development of lung infections such as pneumonia, especially for seniors who have a hard time swallowing. Pneumonia may be caused by the inhalation of harmful types of mouth bacteria, which accumulate when the mouth is not cleaned properly and regularly. Good oral hygiene can reduce the risk of such bacteria going into the lungs.
People with diabetes are more at risk for mouth infections, especially gum (periodontal) disease. Gum disease can damage the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place and may lead to painful chewing problems. In cases of severe gum disease, some people may lose their teeth. Gum disease may also make it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels.
Gum disease may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Poor oral health may increase the number of harmful bacteria found in the mouth, which may release toxins into the blood that can damage heart tissue.
Poor oral health can lower self-esteem and reduce social interactions.
Poor oral health is associated with lower quality of life.
Caring for your mouth and teeth
Whether you can take care of your own mouth and teeth or require the help of someone else, teeth and gum problems can be prevented through good oral health habits, including brushing and flossing as well as regular checkups. Left untreated, oral health problems may lead to serious problems in your overall health and well-being.
Double-headed toothbrushes can help remove plaque among older adults with reduced dexterity
Electric toothbrushes versus manual toothbrushes may improve plaque removal for older adults with reduced dexterity
Modifications to the handle of the toothbrush may help improve toothbrushing ability. The handle can be modified by:
making it longer and/or wider
adding acrylic to mould to an older adult's grip
The older adult's choice of manual or electric toothbrush should be respected, as supporting their preference can improve toothbrushing compliance
Caring for dentures and dental implants
Caring for dentures and implants is as important as caring for the natural teeth
Redness or swelling of the gums is common among older adults wearing dentures that no longer fit well
A dry mouth is very common among older adults and increases the risk of cavities and other types of infections in the mouth that can lead to pain. Dry mouth can be caused by:
Medications (the most common cause)
Dehydration (as most older adults do not drink the recommended daily amount of water)
Radiation therapy to the head and neck for cancer treatment
Diseases such as Sjogren's syndrome
Smoking (such as tobacco or cannabis)
Alcohol use (including the use of mouthwashes containing alcohol)
The following chart summarizes some common characteristics to look for when reviewing your own oral health or that of your senior loved ones.
*The information above has been adapted from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
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