Categorized | Healthy Lifestyle

Four Ways to Maintain Those Pearly White Teeth

Rear view of a mature couple walking and smiling

We go to the gym and try to eat right to stay fit as we age. Yet, most of us don’t think about taking care of our teeth.

We go to the gym and try to eat right to stay fit as we age. Yet, most of us don’t think about taking care of our teeth. Seventy million people in this country – 20 percent of the US population — will be 65 or older by 2030. If you’re one of them, you probably think often about how to stay as fit and healthy as possible.

Larry Williams, DDS, Assistant Professor, College of Dental Medicine-Illinois, said teeth maintenance should be part of a well-rounded health routine.  He has several oral health tips for older adults:

1) Expect change. Many older adults, who haven’t had tooth decay since childhood, are surprised to suddenly start getting it again. As we age, our health and habits change. We may develop diabetes, which can affect our oral health. Tooth enamel erodes and gums recede as we get older, exposing the roots and making them vulnerable to decay. There are hundreds of medications that can dry the mouth, and a dry mouth makes your teeth more prone to decay, as does a simple change in diet, such as using more sugar.

2) Know financial options. Medicare typically doesn’t provide dental coverage. So before retiring, do your homework. If you have dental coverage through work, ask if it can be extended to retirees. Look into Medicare Advantage plans that offer preventive coverage (they don’t provide coverage for treatment).

Research affordable dental plans such as those offered by AARP. If you can’t afford needed dental care, there are many low cost programs through dental schools and local dental societies. If you’re over 65 and have a disability, you may be eligible for coverage through Medicaid.

3) Choose the right dentist and communicate clearly with him or her. The right dentist wants to know about your life, not just your teeth, and understands that health problems, life events, apprehension, and disabilities are common sources of stress for older adults. They all can affect your oral health. Ask for a longer appointment if you have a lot to discuss. For example:

✔️ Tell the dentist about any health problems such as diabetes, a past cancer diagnosis or a stroke or other disabling disease, as well as medications you take. Some cancers can spread to the mouth, and a stroke can damage the facial muscles that help remove food from your teeth when you chew.

✔️ Don’t hesitate to tell your dentist if you’ve recently lost a loved one or suffered some other traumatic life event. Even something like moving from your long-time home or becoming an empty nester can create stress and anxiety, which in turn can affect all aspects of our health.

✔️ Describe your diet, especially if you’ve experienced new decay or other dental problems. Keeping a food diary and discussing it with your dentist can help pinpoint what might be causing changes. Don’t forget alcohol and tobacco, which can both increase your risk of oral disease and cancer as you age.

4) Fine tune your oral hygiene routine. Keep brushing, but go easy. Our gums get thinner as we age and aggressive brushing with a hard brush can do damage. Use a toothbrush labeled “gentle” or “soft bristle.” If you have a condition that makes brushing difficult, such as arthritis in your hands, consider an electric toothbrush. Toothpastes with whiteners may be abrasive and some people taking medications experience a burning sensation from their toothpaste. Look for one for sensitive teeth.

“Every day there are more people turning 65 than there are babies being born so this older population is really growing,” Dr. Williams said. “We experience so many changes as we age so it’s important to keep seeing a dentist and it’s important for dentists and patients to take a holistic approach to oral health.” — Newswise

Larry Williams, DDS, is assistant professor, College of Dental Medicine-Illinois, Midwestern University in Downers Grove, Ill. He conducts research, and writes and lectures extensively about the health needs of geriatric patients. He is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry.

The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) is a professional association of over 40,000 general dentists dedicated to providing quality dental care and oral health education to the public.


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