Senior Living


Something to chew on
Seniors and oral health

From Dental Hygienists’ Association of the State of New York

Since retirement, Franklin had a lot of aches and pains, heart problems, and enough pills to use one of those pill boxes with compartments for each day of the week. But he’d always had teeth as strong as an ox. He hadn’t been to a dental office for awhile. He thought his teeth were the least of his problems. He thought wrong.
Plaque attack: Plaque, from micro-organisms, increases as we age and when not removed, can result in tooth decay and gum (periodontal) diseases. Once plaque hardens, this tartar can’t be removed by brushing; it requires dental hygiene service. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that almost one in three Americans age 65 or older have untreated tooth decay (caries).
Old fillings and crowns break down: In addition, fillings and crowns can break down, providing more space for plaque to settle that can be hard to reach with the brush and with floss/interdental brush or device between teeth. Gum disease, left untreated, can lead to decay, bone loss and even tooth loss. Bleeding and puss also signal gum problems. Persons age 65 or older have lost an average 13 teeth; one in three has no natural teeth; and more than two in five have periodontal disease. Pain and missing teeth create difficulties in speaking, chewing and swallowing, which also cause social and nutrition problems.

So what else ails you?
Research indicates connections between oral health and systemic disease, such as heart conditions and diabetes.
Short on saliva: Conditions like dry mouth (xerostomia), may occur because of other health problems or from diuretics, antihistamines or other prescription or over-the-counter medicines. This can result in a lack of saliva—a problem since saliva acts as a cleansing agent in breaking down food particles and helps protect your teeth, gums and tissue from the acids in plaque, increasing the opportunity for decay and disease.
Oral cancer: Diagnosis of oral cancer of the mouth, tongue, lips or throat occurs seven times often in persons 65 or older – some 28,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC. Dental checkups can detect signs of oral cancer at an early stage, when there is seldom pain to signal a problem. Smoking is detrimental to healthy teeth and gums.
Give a hand: Holding a brush and using floss or an interdental device can be difficult for some seniors with arthritic or other conditions. An electric brush may be easier to handle. Your dental hygienist can show you how to make the most of your brushing and what procedure or device to use between your teeth.

5 actions for your good health
1. Brush at least twice per day and floss or use an interdental device at least once daily; keep dentures clean. 2. Maintain a well-balanced diet and avoid sugary foods and drinks. 3. Schedule regular visits for a dental exam and dental hygiene service— generally at least every six months. These visits are opportunity to detect problems, in addition to reviewing effective oral hygiene procedures and cleaning teeth. 4. Alert your dental office if you have tooth sensitivity; bleeding and sore gums; other problems with gums or teeth; or if your dentures become ill-fitting. 5. At each dental visit, tell dental professionals about any change in health conditions you have and any medications you’re taking. Sources:,


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