When 57-year-old Dennis Cedarholm bit into a cracker, he was met with quite the surprise — his front tooth broke in half.
Dental issues like cavities, gum disease and even fractured teeth can affect anyone at any stage of life, but being over 50 puts you at more risk of oral health problems.
Part of that risk is because as an older adult, you likely didn’t have the fluoridated water that helps protect teeth these days.
And all those years spent chewing and grinding? They can take a toll on your tooth enamel, leading to chips or breakage — as was the case with Cedarholm’s tooth. Not only that, infections in the mouth can be associated with health issues like, stroke, diabetes, pneumonia and heart disease.
Oral health affects more than your mouth
A recent study found a connection between good oral health and the prevention of health problems and disabilities. The study showed less health problems — heart disease, stroke and diabetes — in those older adults who had more than 20 teeth.
Common oral health concerns for older adults
As we age, the conditions of our mouths change. Add to that any medications you may be taking and your mouth can seem quite different from when you were younger. These two conditions are common among older adults.
Cavities: Tooth decay isn’t just reserved for kids who overindulge in sugary treats. The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that as we age, we become prone to cavities again. This can be due to medication side effects like dry mouth.
Gum disease: This condition is widespread among older adults because it is often painless until it has advanced, and without regular dental checkups, you may not realize you have a problem, according to the ADA.
Oral hygiene tips for older adults
Brush and floss: Use a fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth twice a day. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head, and replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if you notice the bristles are fraying.
Floss your teeth — with floss, pre-threaded flossers, tiny brushes, wooden plaque removers or water flossers — once a day.
Clean your dentures: If you have dentures, clean them daily with a cleanser made for dentures.
Go to the dentist regularly: Trips to the dentist shouldn’t be reserved for when you have pain. See your dentist once a year to get a proper oral checkup. When you go, take a list of your medications, any medical conditions you have, your insurance cards and any dentures or partials even if you’re not wearing them.
Drink water with fluoride: Fluoride helps fight cavities and many community water systems add it to the water supply.
Quit smoking: Smoking can increase problems with gum disease, tooth loss and tooth decay.