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Maintaining dental health in your golden years

Good oral health habits and a healthy lifestyle can help you keep your gums healthy and your smile bright for a lifetime. Here are some to tips to help keep your mouth healthy and strong into your golden years.

Brush at least twice a day

Brushing your teeth regularly is important in all stages of life. Brushing helps to remove the thin film of bacteria that builds up on your teeth each day and contributes to tooth decay. You should brush your teeth for two to three minutes with a fluoridated toothpaste at least twice a day. If you can brush after every meal, that’s even better!

When you brush, you should keep the bristles aligned against the gum line and brush along the gum line and the inner and outer surfaces of each tooth. Finish by brushing your tongue, which helps to remove bacteria from your mouth.

Healthy aging tip: Although decay can occur in any area of the tooth, you’re more likely to develop decay in certain areas as you age. Be sure to visit your dentist regularly to keep an eye on old fillings and the soft roots of teeth that can be exposed as gums recede.

Floss daily

Flossing your teeth can help keep your gums strong and prevent plaque from building up between teeth. Make sure to floss at least once a day, preferably before bed, to clean the places where a toothbrush can’t reach.

Why is flossing so important? It’s the only way to remove plaque from between teeth and below the gum line, where decay and gum disease often begin.

Healthy aging tip: Most people don’t realize how important it is to take care of their gums as well as their teeth. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, and flossing is key to preventing it before it starts. Additionally, research has shown that there may be a connection between gum health and some chronic diseases. Gum disease has been linked to Alzheimer’sheart disease and diabetes.

Eat nutritious food

What you eat can help keep your teeth strong and healthy. Antioxidants and other nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts improve your body’s ability to fight bacteria and inflammation.

Some foods may actually do more than others to help defend against tooth decay.

  • Fresh cranberries may interrupt oral bacteria’s ability to form damaging plaque.
  • Calcium-fortified juices, milk and other dairy products help to promote healthy teeth and bones, which reduces the risk for tooth loss.
  • Cheese is high in calcium, which protects teeth from decay and helps rebuild tooth enamel.
  • Crisp fruits and raw vegetables like apples, carrots and celery help clean plaque from your teeth and freshen your breath.

Healthy aging tip: Tooth pain and other oral problems may affect your ability to eat nutritious food. You should visit your dentist right away if you are experiencing any tooth pain, jaw pain, sores or other oral discomforts that interfere with your ability to eat.

Keep up with dentist appointments

Your dentist can diagnose and treat dental problems before they become serious. Regular checkups and cleanings are an important part of maintaining good dental health as you age, especially since the early stages of some problems can only be detected with dental x-rays.

The health of your mouth mirrors the condition of your body as a whole. When your mouth is healthy, chances are that your overall health is good, too. If you have poor oral health, you may have other health problems. Seeing a dentist regularly not only protects your mouth, it also allows your dentist to watch for developments that may point to other health issues.

Healthy aging tip: As you age, you become more vulnerable to chronic diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease. Studies have shown that these diseases may have symptoms that manifest in the mouth. For that reason, your dentist may be the first health professional to notice a problem.

If you smoke, quit

While you might be aware of the impact tobacco use has on your lung health, you might not consider its effects on your oral health. Smoking can increase the risk of mouth pain, gum recession, tooth loss, tooth decay and gum disease. Smokers are almost twice as likely to lose their teeth as non-smokers, and twice as likely to need root canal treatment.

Fortunately, quitting smoking decreases the risk of tooth loss. Your dentist may be able to prescribe nicotine replacement therapies, such as a transdermal nicotine patch or nicotine chewing gum.

Healthy aging tip: In addition to increasing your risk of gum disease and tooth loss, smoking increases your risk of oral cancer. Although oral cancer can occur in any age group, it’s most often seen in people over 40 years of age. See a dentist immediately if you notice any red or white patches on your gums, tongue or other oral tissues. Watch out for sores that take longer than two weeks to heal. Oral cancer is often difficult to detect in its early stages, so be sure to see your dentist for regular checkups so they can screen you for signs of it.

Dentistry Decoded: Senior oral health

Last updated September 8, 2021

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.