Dental Tips for Seniors
People become more susceptible to dental problems as they get older. Understanding the possible problems can help prevent them!
Watch Your Diet: Everyone knows sugar causes cavities and should be avoided between meals. But there are many “hidden sugars” that are not as obvious as a candy bar. Catsup, for example, is often 25% sugar. Avoid snacking between meals and if you can’t brush after a meal, at least rinse your mouth thoroughly with water.
Brushing and Flossing are always beneficial but unfortunately sometimes becomes more difficult with age. Electric tooth brushes often help.
Stop Using Tobacco: Tough one but very helpful in preventing mouth cancer and improving overall health.
See Your Dentist More Frequently: Once every six months has been recommended for years but many seniors benefit from dental cleanings every three or four months. The objective is to prevent the problems from occurring. If they occur, treat them early before more damage happens. Be sure to ask about senior discounts and pre-payment discounts.
Fluoride Is Your Friend: Fluoride is one of the few things everyone can use to prevent cavities. It works and it works for people of all ages. Fluoride makes the teeth harder and more resistant to decay. EBMUD has added optimal levels of fluoride to drinking water for over twenty years. Dentists have seen a tremendous decrease in cavities, especially in children, since water fluoridation was started. Seniors, because they are more susceptible to cavities, benefit from additional sources of fluoride such as:
1. enhanced fluoride prescription toothpaste (ask your dentist),
2. over-the-counter fluoride mouth rinses (check the label for “contains fluoride; should be used 3 times per day after meals)
3. fluoride varnish (see below) applied by your dentist or hygienist.
Fluoride Varnish can be painted on the teeth at the end of a dental appointment to help prevent cavities. The varnish sticks to the teeth to allow the fluoride to be absorbed directly into the teeth. As with other forms of fluoride, fluoride varnish makes teeth harder and more resistant to cavities. It is also helpful in desensitizing sensitive teeth. Be sure to ask your dentist or hygienist.
Silver Diamine Fluoride (“SDF”): This is the first FDA accepted product to stop cavities.
Oral Cancer: Your dentist or hygienist should do an oral cancer exam at least every year. It is fast, simple and painless. The risk of oral cancer increases with age. A history of tobacco use increases the risk but there has recently been an increase in oral cancer among non-smokers. If you have a sore, red area or lump in your mouth for more than two weeks, see your dentist or physician immediately.
Dry mouth: Saliva usually decreases with age and is often due to prescription medications. There are over 400 different medications that cause dry mouth. Because dry mouth contributes to both cavities and denture sores, it is especially important for seniors. There are some over-the-counter products available at pharmacies and grocery stores made by Biotene that may help. Biotene has mouth sprays, rinses, toothpastes and several other products especially for dry mouth. Sugarless hard candy can also help but never, ever suck on hard candy containing sugar! That is a sure fire way to get lots of cavities! Let your physician know you have a dry mouth. He or she may not know unless you speak up! There may be alternative medications that help. But never stop taking a prescription medication without checking with your physician!
Dental House Calls: There are now dentists and hygienists that make house calls! We are not affiliated with any of these organizations but we include them here for your convenience.
1. Dentist: www.housecalldentists.com; 415-563-4261
2. Dental Hygienists: http://www.travelingdental.com; 510-227-5804
3. Dental Hygienists: www.goldenscalers.com; 510-886-4199