Oral Health as You Get Older
Older Americans Month
May is Older Americans Month, established in 1963 to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older persons. The theme for 2021 is ‘Communities of Strength’, emphasizing the strength of older adults, with special importance on the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities to support health and well-being.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by 2060 the number of US adults aged 65 years or older is expected to reach 98 million, 24% of the overall population. This is a growing demographic in the United States.
Being disabled, homebound, or institutionalized (e.g., seniors who live in nursing homes) increases the risk of poor oral health. The ability to access routine professional oral health services, have proper oral health education, and daily oral hygiene are all essential factors related to improved oral health. Older adults may also have potential physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments associated with aging that may make home oral home care and communication challenging.
Facts about oral health among adults 65 years or older:
- 1 in 5 are edentulous (no teeth)
- 18% with retained natural teeth have untreated cavities
- 68% have some form of periodontitis (gum disease)
Common Oral Conditions Experienced by the Aging Population
- Tooth Decay can occur on different surfaces of the tooth. Older adults are at an increased risk for root caries because of both increased gingival recession that exposes root surfaces and increased use of medications that produce dry mouth. There is also a high prevalence of secondary cavities on the top of teeth, likely related to the prevalence of restorations in the older population.
- Gum Disease is common in the aging population. Many times, the older adult may have bone loss or receding gums, which makes a larger area for plaque retention.
- Dry mouth can impact how a person can eat, speak, swallow, chew, and smile. Saliva helps facilitate several functions and also cleanses the oral cavity, which lessens the effect of acids that can cause dental cavities. Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications.
- Reduced dexterity and difficulties opening the mouth may occur with aging, and this reduces accessibility and ability to clean the oral cavity effectively. Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis may result in limitations in mobility. There is also a decrease in bone and muscle mass with aging.
- Receding gums exposes more grooves and anatomy of the tooth. This gives plaque more areas to hide undisrupted. With exposed root surfaces a person may experience more sensitivity, root caries, and periodontal disease.
- Mucosal changes often occur with age. The tissue becomes increasingly thin and smooth, with a loss of elasticity. The oral tissues act as a protective layer against the entrance of toxic substances and microorganisms. With age there is an increased susceptibility to pathogens, like Candidiasis (e.g., Thrush) infections and decreased wound healing.
- Missing Teeth: Tooth loss has multiple impacts on quality of well-being. When someone is missing opposing teeth used for chewing, fresh fruits and vegetables often end up being avoided. Relying on soft foods that are easily chewable results in a decline in nutrition and health.
- Chronic Disease. A report by the World Health Organization listed conditions common to older age, including hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression, and dementia. Other conditions may include hypertension, heart disease, and cancer. Most older Americans take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs; many of these medications can cause dry mouth. Reduced saliva flow increases the risk of cavities.
Aging and Caring for Oral Health
Plaque retention in the aging population is exacerbated by the presence of dental restorations (e.g., crowns, bridges), missing teeth, and gingival recession. The aging population often face difficulty in mechanical removal of plaque because of reduced manual dexterity, impaired vision, or physical limitations associated with conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or arthritis.
Periodontal Care: Be gentle but thorough with your cleaning routine, brushing twice a day and cleaning between your teeth daily. You may need to incorporate an additional tool to effectively clean hard-to-reach areas. Read More: Gingivitis and Periodontitis Informative Leaflet
Implant Care: Replacing missing teeth with implants has become a viable option, even for the aging population. It is recommended to brush twice a day and clean between the teeth once a day. Getting to the neck of the implant is essential and may require specialty brushes. Read More: Caring for your Implants Informative Leaflet
Denture Care: The tissues under the denture need care and the denture itself must be cleaned daily. Taking the denture out at night and massaging the tissues under the denture once a day to increase circulation enhance the health of the tissue. Immersion of the denture in cleansers is recommended. It is also recommended to thoroughly brush the denture before and after soaking.
Oral Health Care Tips
There are considerations beyond daily oral home care. Below are tips related to nutrition, dry mouth, visiting the dentist, and as a caregiver.
Oral health problems may have a negative influence on consuming a healthy diet by experiencing changes in chewing ability, dry mouth, pain related to tooth decay, loose or missing teeth, or ill-fitting dentures. Here are tips to incorporate to support nutritional health.
- Make a conscious choice to include healthy food choices like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins like chicken or fish.
- Limit processed foods.
- Limit beverages that are high in sugar.
- Seek advice from a physician for possible need of supplements.
- Limit alcohol intake since alcohol can irritate the tissues in the mouth, especially if already experiencing dry mouth.
The quality of life can be altered because of dry mouth. Here are some tips to relieve dry mouth.
- Sugar-free chewing gum or hard candies can stimulate salivary flow.
- Drink water with meals to help chew and swallow food.
- Use alcohol-free mouthwash, as alcohol can exacerbate dry mouth.
- Use a moisturizing mouth spray or gel.
- Use lip balm to soothe cracked or dry lips.
Visiting the Dentist
The basis of prevention is related to detecting disease at the earliest possible state, which requires regular dental visits.
- Bring a family member or a friend along. This will help ensure no information is missed, and now there is someone to discuss possible treatment options with after the appointment.
- Before the appointment, write down any questions so nothing is forgot.
- If something is unclear, ask the dental professional to repeat or rephrase.
- Ask if you can record the conversation on a device, so you can listen to the discussion again later.
As a Caregiver
If you notice your loved one has poor oral health, it may be a sign they need help from a caregiver. Here are some tips you can take to assist an aging loved one maintain oral health.
- Encourage daily oral home care. Setting reminders is important. Brush twice a day and clean between the teeth once a day.
- Keep removable dentures and partials clean. Clean daily and remove at night.
- Schedule regular dental professional visits. This is a great preventive approach for excellent oral health. Continually check for any sores or wounds in the oral cavity that do not heal within two weeks.
- Medications and medical conditions often have side effects. Tell your dental professional, as they may be able to offer strategies to help relieve oral concerns.
- Encourage a healthy diet that is low in sugar to help prevent tooth decay.
TePe Hygiene Tools for the Aging Population
TePe would like to take some time to highlight some of our oral care products that older individuals may benefit from to maximize their well-being, health, and independence. Proper oral health is essential for whole-body health!
- TePe Extra Grip was developed to help those with reduced manual strength and dexterity by providing a removable comfortable, stable grip that will fit most TePe toothbrushes and special brushes.
- TePe Supreme™ Compact Toothbrush has a broad handle with thumbpad, along with multi-level bristles to reach further between the teeth and along the gumline. The compact head is smaller in design to make access easier.
- TePe Angle™ Interdental Brush is used to clean between the teeth, and the long handle and angled head allows easier access to the back teeth.
- TePe EasyPick™ is a great on-the-go option to clean between the teeth. The silicone coating cleans efficiently between the teeth and feels comfortable on the gums.
- TePe Denture Care™ toothbrush has extra-long strong bristles to efficiently clean removable dentures. The brush head can be bent backwards for an improved grip
- TePe® Implant Care Kit is designed to help keep dental implants for life by combining different hygiene tools into one convenient kit. Products included in the kit: TePe® Interdental Brush Original (Variety Pack), TePe EasyPick™, TePe Universal Care™, TePe® Implant Orthodontic Brush, & TePe® Bridge and Implant Floss.
- TePe GOOD™ Tongue Cleaner is designed to remove bacteria on the tongue to improve oral health and prevent bad breath. The design corresponds to the natural shape of the tongue with three, slightly raised cleaning blades give a triple-effect, allowing bacteria to be removed with one stroke.