The last three months of the year are often the sweetest. The holidays give us so many reasons to celebrate, gifting our taste buds with an array of seasonal delights. This month it will be Halloween candy, next month it’s pumpkin pie, and then we have a month of Christmas cookies to enjoy. Lucky us! With all of these treats in store, let’s take a moment to discuss oral care for seniors.
Oral care is especially important for seniors, who have a heightened risk for gum disease. Gum disease is most commonly caused by plaque and food left in the teeth, due to inadequate dental hygiene. Maintaining dental health is possible when you take the time to establish a good routine, such as brushing at least twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste. A common saying is “brush gently, and brush often!” Be sure to floss at least once a day to remove the plaque and particles that become lodged in between the teeth. Additionally, rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice a day. This is a standard routine, whether you are 7 years old or 70...but there are some special considerations for seniors.
Many seniors are on medications with uncomfortable side effects, such as dry mouth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 400 commonly prescribed medications can contribute to dry mouth. This condition is very common, and most people do not know that it can increase the risk for tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva helps kill bacteria and rebuild enamel, so a dry mouth always requires attention.
If you are experiencing dry mouth, please note that products containing alcohol tend to increase dryness, so it’s probably a good idea to avoid alcohol-based mouthwash. The Mayo Clinic recommends using an alcohol-free mouthwash that contains xylitol, which also offer protection against tooth decay. Using sugar-free gum, or sugar-free hard candies, can also help stimulate the flow of saliva to relieve the symptoms of dry mouth. Following these simple recommendations can help seniors fight dry mouth, and decrease their risk of gum disease.
Another tip for seniors is to use floss picks, and invest in a dental water jet. Many seniors suffer from arthritis, or other conditions that decrease their coordination. Floss picks are an inexpensive dental tool that can simplify daily dental routines. The tool's design is fuss-free, making it easier to floss teeth all the way in the back. Dental water jets are another great idea, because they can help remove the particles and plaque that floss leaves behind.
Seniors who wear removable dentures need to take special care to keep their gums healthy. It’s crucial to remove and clean dentures on a daily basis, since any bacteria or debris will likely come into contact with the gums. This bacteria can put seniors who wear removable dentures at an increased risk for gum disease. Seniors who are already afflicted with gum disease still need to practice proper denture care, as gum disease can quickly accelerate into a more advanced stage called periodontal disease.
With all of this said, we wish everyone a very festive fall season! Be sure to reach out to PAN if one of your loved ones needs help keeping their smile healthy!