Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Dental Health for Seniors

Even though we use them every day for chewing, speaking, and even breathing, we tend to take our mouths for granted. Dedicating a few minutes each day to oral health will benefit not just your mouth, but the rest of your body as well.

The Basics
Maintaining good oral health is important at any age. That means brushing teeth at least twice each day with a fluoride toothpaste and soft bristle brush; flossing daily; and visiting the dentist for regular cleanings and exams. If you have dentures, brush them daily with a soft toothbrush and denture cleaner. Keep dentures covered with water or a denture cleaning solution when you're not using them. And remember, even if you have dentures and no natural teeth, you still need to see your dentist regularly to maintain overall health.

A Window to Your Health
"Your mouth is a window into the health of your body," says Christina Robles, DDS, a Los Angeles Jewish Home clinic dentist. "It can signal you're not getting enough nutrition or an infection is present."

In addition to revealing your health status, notes Dr. Robles, oral health can also affect your overall health. Bacteria and inflammation caused by periodontitis (severe gum disease) may contribute to cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, blocked arteries, blood clots, and stroke. People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as those who have healthy gums.

Also, condition such as diabetes and blood cell disorders can lower the body's resistance to infection, which make periodontal diseases more severe. People with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontitis and have more severe cases of it than those without diabetes. This, in turn, can make it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar.

Potential Mouth Problems Associated with Aging
Gum Disease: When plaque —then thin film of bacteria that accumulates on teeth — builds up along and under the gum line, it can cause gingivitis (gum disease). Gingivitis often causes red, swollen gums. If gingivitis progresses to periodontitis, it can lead to infection that damages the bones, gums, and other tissues supporting the teeth. Nearly 23 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 have periodontitis.

Dry Mouth: About 30 percent of older adults experience dry mouth, a reduced flow of saliva. Prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines are often the culprits. Drinking plenty of water and chewing sugarless gum can help with dry mouth, while consuming caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can worsen it.

Oral Cancer: Cancer of the mouth can develop in any part of the mouth or throat, and occurs most often in people over 40 years of age. See your dentist immediately if you notice any red or white patches of your gums or tongue, or if you have a sore that doesn't heal within two weeks.

Problem Solving
It can be difficult to brush teeth if you have arthritis or other dexterity problems. Make the toothbrush easier to use by inserting the handle into something easier to grip, such as a bicycle grip or rubber ball.

If you have difficult chewing, chopping, grinding, or pureeing foods may help. Canned fruits and vegetables are often softer than fresh —but be sure to get sugar-free varieties.

Take care of your oral health and you'll have something to smile about — a healthy mouth and a healthier body.

Nancy Sokoler Steiner Nancy Sokoler Steiner is a freelance writer and author based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and Lifestyles Magazine, among other publications.

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