For many adults, getting older means they may be faced with unfamiliar oral health concerns. And the population facing these concerns is only getting bigger. By 2060, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts the number of adults 65 and older will reach 98 million. That’s 24 percent of the US population! As this group grows, more individuals are seeking information about oral health problems in older adults.
Keep reading to learn how to avoid some of the most common issues for an aging mouth.
Solutions for common oral health problems in older adults
Getting older doesn’t mean you have to deal with more oral health issues. Here are four tips to help prevent some of the most common oral health problems in older adults.
Drink water to prevent cavities
According to a survey from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 96.4 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 65 have “caries, missing, or filled permanent teeth.” This percentage is higher than any other age demographic in the survey. One simple lifestyle change that can help prevent cavities and other oral health problems is to drink more water. Not only is water sugar-free, but it can also help keep your teeth clean.
Dehydration can cause your salivary glands to reduce or stop producing saliva. Your mouth relies on saliva to help wash away harmful bacteria. Without enough of it, plaque gets to stick around longer, which can lead to cavities, mouth sores, bad breath, and gum disease.
If your mouth continues to feel dry despite increasing your water intake, it may be caused by prescriptions, disease, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Talk to your dentist and your doctor. They will be happy to work with you to determine the cause of dry mouth. Once you find the cause, special toothpaste, rinses, and sprays can be recommended, as well as medication changes.
Brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease
Gum disease impacts two out of three adults aged 65 and older in the United States. In mild cases gums can become inflamed, swollen, and irritated. This is called gingivitis. The irritated gum tissue begins to pull away from the tooth, and the worse it gets, the less secure your teeth are. Advanced gum disease is called periodontitis. It can lead to bone and tissue loss, as well as tooth loss. As it progresses, teeth may start to feel loose or move around in the mouth.
Ongoing studies show that people with gum disease are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, or other serious health events.
To prevent and even reverse gum disease, it’s important to brush your teeth twice daily and floss once daily. A good dental hygiene routine helps prevent the buildup of plaque around the gums, which can lead to inflammation. It’s also important to see your dentist every six months for preventive cleanings.
Quit tobacco and limit alcohol to prevent oral cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco and excessive alcohol use are the strongest risk factors for oral cancer. This is because tobacco and alcohol are carcinogenic, meaning they have the capability to cause cancer. Most carcinogens, like tobacco and chemicals found in alcohol, work by “interacting with a cell’s DNA to produce mutations.” Quitting tobacco products and cutting down on alcohol consumption can help reduce your risk of developing the disease.
The American Cancer Society predicts that 54,540 people will get oral or oropharyngeal cancer in 2023. Oral cancer can affect your gums, tongue, lips, teeth, throat, tonsils, and other soft tissues in the mouth. In the United States the average age of a person diagnosed with oral cancer is 64.
If you need help quitting, there are local resources available to support you right now.
Older adults need dental insurance
The best way to take care of your oral health as an older adult is to invest in dental insurance. If you don’t have coverage through an employer, there are other affordable options available such as individual plans. Dental insurance makes it easy to see providers for preventive check-ups and can help cover some of the costs for procedures you may need as you age.
The right dental plan is key to maintaining oral health in older adults. Contact us to learn more about the specifics of your coverage.
If you don’t have dental benefits, we can help! Not all plans require you to wait for the next open enrollment period. Find the dental plan that meets your needs today.
*Updated August 2023