Oral Health for Seniors

What special oral health issues should I know about as a senior?

Your teeth can last a lifetime with proper home care and regular dental check-ups. No matter what your age, you can keep your teeth and gums healthy by brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and seeing your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and check-ups.

Even if you brush and floss regularly, you may face certain issues in your senior years when it comes to your oral health. Taking medications and general health conditions are some of the issues many seniors face. Luckily, your dental professional and doctor can help you meet most of these challenges quite successfully.

  • Root Caries: When gums recede, even slightly, they can expose the roots of the teeth, which are much more susceptible to dental decay. As seniors have a higher occurrence of gum recession, proper oral hygiene using fluoride toothpaste is vital to maintaining a healthy mouth.
  • Secondary Caries: Decay around old fillings, called secondary or recurrent decay, can also occur more frequently in seniors, especially those with multiple dental fillings or fillings that have been in place for many years. Again, proper oral hygiene with the use of fluoride toothpaste is the first line of defense in prevention.
  • Sensitivity can be an increasing problem as one ages. Your gums can recede over time due to periodontal disease, exposing areas of the tooth that are not protected by enamel. These areas are particularly prone to pain due to cold or hot foods or beverages. In severe cases cold air, as well as sensitivity to sour and sweet drinks and foods, can occur. If you experience sensitivity, try anti-sensitivity toothpaste. If the problem persists, see your dentist. The sensitivity may be an indication of a more serious condition such as a cavity, or a cracked or fractured tooth.
  • Dry mouth is a common condition in seniors, and one that may be caused by medications or certain medical disorders. Left untreated, dry mouth can damage your teeth. Your dentist can recommend various methods to restore moisture in your mouth, as well as appropriate treatments or medications to help prevent the problems associated with dry mouth.
  • Existing health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer can affect your oral health. Be sure to let your dental professional know of any general health issues you are facing, so that he or she understands the whole situation and can help you meet your special requirements.
  • Dentures require special care to keep them clean and maintain a healthy mouth. Follow your dentist's instructions carefully and see your dentist if any problems arise. An annual check-up is recommended for denture wearers.
  • Gum disease is a potentially serious condition that can affect people of all ages, but especially people over 40. A number of factors can increase the severity of gum disease, including:
    • Poor oral hygiene
    • Bad diet
    • Systemic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer
    • Environmental factors such as stress and smoking
    • Certain medications that can influence gum condition. Because the earliest stages of gum disease are reversible, it is important to identify it early. Regular dental check-ups can insure early detection and treatment of gum disease. It is better to prevent gum disease from developing in the first place, by practising proper oral hygiene.
  • Crowns and bridges are used to strengthen damaged teeth or replace missing ones. A crown is used to entirely cover or "cap" a damaged tooth. Besides strengthening a damaged tooth, a crown can be used to improve its appearance, shape or alignment. Bridges are commonly used to replace one or more missing teeth. They span the space where the teeth are missing. Bridges are cemented to the natural teeth or implants surrounding the empty space.