Oral Health Information for Older Adults

The percentage of older adults who have kept their natural teeth has increased steadily during the past several decades. This trend is expected to continue, improving the oral health and quality of life of many older adults.

The leading causes of tooth loss in older adults are periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay. Factors that may put older adults at higher risk of dental problems include poor general health status, reduced ability to heal, medications, depression, decline in memory, dry mouth, functional impairments, hormonal changes, and changes in financial status or income.

Every tooth in the mouth plays an important role in speaking, chewing, and maintaining the proper position of other teeth. People with loose or missing teeth or those with ill-fitting dentures often have limited diets, since eating some foods, like fruits and vegetables, can be difficult or painful. Fortunately, you can prevent most oral and tooth disease by keeping your mouth clean and healthy.

What You Should Do

  • Brush your teeth and gums with a soft bristle toothbrush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Use dental floss daily to clean between your teeth. Older adults with compromised dexterity may try floss holders or interdental brushes. more
  • Drink fluoridated water. more
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit between meal snacks. Avoid sugars and starches when snacking and limit the number of snacks eaten throughout the day. more
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Even if you do not have any teeth, regular dental visits are very important to keep your mouth healthy and check for any problems. An oral exam can provide early detection of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions. more
  • See your dentist right away if you notice loose teeth, bleeding when you brush, red and swollen gums, or any other unusual changes.
  • Keep your dentures clean and report any changes in fit to your dentist. Remove your dentures before going to sleep for the night.
  • Avoid tobacco. more
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Be aware of the warning signs of dry mouth. These are: difficulty in swallowing food, persistent sore throat, denture discomfort, dry lips, corners of the mouth that crack or bleed. Talk to your doctor or dentist about your symtoms and your current medications. more
  • If you are a caretaker of an older adult, ensure that oral care is incorporated in daily general care.

Dry Mouth Treatments

  • Talk to your doctor or dentist about your medications.
  • A dry mouth places you at higher risk for tooth decay, so talk to your dentist about prescription-strength higher concentrated fluoride gel which has been shown to reduce risk of decay.
  • Avoid mouth rinses with alcohol which can increase dryness and irritation. A low-cost mouthrinse is “normal saline”, made by mixing 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 quart of water.
  • Make sure your home is well humidified during winter months and drink plenty of water during all seasons. Lubricate lips with either petroleum jelly or a lip moisturizer with lanolin.
  • Chew sugarless gum or suck sugarless hard candies to stimulate production of saliva. Look for items with xylitol, a sugar substitute found to reduce risk of decay.

Denture Care

Cleaning your dentures every day is one of the most important things you can do to help your smile keep its attractive appearance. If you clean your dentures regularly, you will prevent staining and denture odor.

  • Dentures can break if they are dropped. Fill the sink with water and clean your dentures over the sink in case they slip out of your hands.
  • Rinse your dentures thoroughly with cool or warm water to remove loose food particles.
  • Brush all surfaces thoroughly with a denture cleaning paste or mild dish soap using a denture brush or a soft-bristled toothbrush. Brushes with hard/stiff bristles could damage your dentures.
  • Rinse dentures with running water under the faucet to remove all of the cleaning paste.
  • Place your dentures in a denture cup for the night. It is okay to keep them dry. For heavily stained dentures, soak your dentures twice a week in a cleanser recommended by your dentist. The following low-cost alternative may be used for dentures without metal clasps: Two teaspoons bleach and one teaspoon water softener in 8 ounces of water.
  • Brush your gums and tongue with a soft-bristled toothbrush to remove plaque and stimulate circulation. This will keep your mouth clean and healthy.