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For Older Adults: Don’t Brush Off Dental Care

Older adults may have dental concerns that can’t be fully taken care of with just brushing and flossing.

Your dentist may have talked with you about the dental health issues that occur later in life. These include dentures and dry mouth. You can help your teeth and gums stay healthy by always keeping up good dental care.


Dentures may make your mouth less sensitive to hot foods and liquids. They also may make it hard to notice bones or other harmful objects in your food.

Dentures need special treatment to keep them clean and free from food that can cause stains, bad breath, or swollen gums. Have your dentist show you how to clean them and wear them the right way. Care for your dentures as you would your natural teeth. This includes brushing them daily and seeing your dentist regularly. Brush your dentures with cleaners made just for dentures. Don't use toothpaste meant for natural teeth. When you go to sleep, take out your dentures. Put them in water or a denture-cleaning liquid.

Partial dentures should be cared for in the same way. Bacteria can collect under the clasps or clips that keep partial dentures secure. So give that area special care.

Dry mouth

This condition happens when the salivary glands don't make enough saliva. You may have a sore throat, trouble swallowing, tasting, or even speaking. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. It's often caused by medicines for depression, antihistamines, decongestants, pain killers, diuretics, and high blood pressure. Dry mouth can also be caused by diabetes, Sjogren disease, or Parkinson disease.

See your dentist if you have dry mouth. Without enough saliva to rinse away food pieces from your teeth, you can develop tooth decay. Your dentist can prescribe a medicine to help your salivary glands work correctly. You can improve the condition by drinking plenty of water and reducing your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. These can dry out your mouth. Your dentist or healthcare provider also may suggest using artificial saliva and oral rinses. These are available at most pharmacies. Some people find it helpful to suck on sugar-free hard candy or gum to stimulate the flow of saliva.

Gum disease

Gum disease affects both the gums and the bones that hold your teeth in place. A sticky film (plaque) builds up on teeth because of the bacteria in the mouth. When plaque stays on your teeth for a long time, it forms a hard covering called tartar. This won't come off with brushing. Tartar can lead to gum disease.

The key to preventing gum disease is to brush and floss regularly. This prevents plaque from sticking to your teeth. If plaque is allowed to stay, you could get gingivitis. This causes your gums to get red and swollen and to bleed. If not treated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis. This is a gum disease that can wear away the gums and the bones that support your teeth. Certain things can make gum disease worse. These include not brushing and flossing on a daily basis, food stuck between the teeth, smoking, smokeless tobacco, ill-fitting bridges, and partial dentures.

Keep your good habits

The problems your dentist warned you about as a child should still concern you. Cavities and gum disease are things to watch for during your life. It's important to protect against these lifelong concerns and the new problems that may occur with age. You can do this by keeping up these good dental habits:

  • Brush and floss daily

  • Visit your dentist regularly

  • Eat a balanced diet

  • Don't use tobacco, as smoking increases gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss

Dental care is expensive, and regular check-ups are not covered by Medicare. If you have trouble paying for dental care, ask your healthcare provider about low-cost dental clinics or financial assistance programs that can help cover your costs.