Dental Health for Older Adults 101: What those over 50 need to know
“After all, you do not expect to lose an arm or leg, so why expect to lose any of your teeth?” – Australian Dental Association
From eating, drinking, and talking, to self-esteem, sleep quality and overall wellbeing – oral health plays an important role in many areas of our lives. Having a good dental care routine in place is essential to maintaining healthy gums and teeth over the long term, especially as we get older.
This Dental Health Week (2 – 8 August 2021) the focus is on “Keep Your Smile For Life.” The Australian Dental Association says that removing teeth because of decay or gum disease “should not be a normal expectation” – rather we should expect to keep our teeth for life.
For those over 50, dental health can become increasingly challenging for several reasons, such as:
- Increased risk of diabetes, which is a high-risk factor for gum disease
- Dry mouth, commonly caused by medications prescribed for older adults, which can lead to tooth decay or infection
- Accumulation of environmental and biological impacts on teeth over the lifetime leading to wear and tear of your teeth (“attrition”)
- Increase in tooth sensitivity, often due to receding gums
- Expense of dentists and dental health care (4 in 10 avoid or delay dental visits due to cost)
This means that maintaining good oral health every day is even more crucial to prevent development of infection, decay or disease.
Moreover, poor oral health is closely related to our overall health status. Bacteria from our gums and teeth can enter the body, contributing to chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease (in our heart), respiratory conditions (in our lungs) and cerebrovascular diseases (in our brains).
So, what can we do on an everyday basis to look after our oral health?
- Revamp your teeth cleaning technique
To remove build up of food and plaque, we need to brush and floss twice a day:
- Spend at least 2 minutes morning and night brushing with fluoride toothpaste
- Start at the back of the mouth, and use circular motions to travel to the front
- Avoid using too much force so you don’t damage the surface of your teeth or gums
- Spit, don’t rinse
- Use a soft, ergonomic toothbrush
- If you have dentures, ensure they are cleaned and rinsed after every meal and brushed with toothpaste twice daily
- Eat regular, healthy foods and choose tap water
What we eat and how we eat affects our dental health. Our top tips?
- Opt for tap water over bottled water, juice or soft drink, as tap water contains added fluoride for protection (plus is naturally sugar free!)
- Reduce snacking between meals, as regular snacking can reduce the action of saliva in protecting the teeth against decay
- Reduce sweet and overly processed foods, or if you do enjoy a sweet treat from time to time, try to eat it with a main meal of the day so that the saliva released during the meal can reduce the impact of the sugar and acids on your teeth
- Try sugar-free gum after meals to help boost saliva production
- Work with your GP and dental care team for preventative care
As we get older, its common to experience dry mouth. Dry mouth is defined as a condition in which the salivary glands in your mouth don’t make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet – pretty self explanatory. It’s a common side effect from medications, cancer treatment, and can also be due to autoimmune conditions. However, decreased saliva can affect tastiness of food, digestion, appetite and enjoyment of food, and lead to increased risk of decay and gum disease. If you are experiencing dry mouth, it’s important to chat with your GP and dentist about treatment options.
Regular dental check-ups are also important for reducing the risk of oral diseases and managing symptoms, and there are pathways available for reducing expenses of dental care.
Useful Links and Resources:
- Australian Dental Association: Older Adults 65+ https://www.ada.org.au/Your-Dental-Health/Older-Adults-65
- National Dental Care: The Importance of Oral Health For Older Australians https://www.nationaldentalcare.com.au/article/the-importance-of-oral-health-for-older-australians
- NSW Health: Public dental services during COVID-19 pandemic https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/oralhealth/Pages/info-patients.aspx