Seventy million people in this country 20 percent of the U.S. population -- will be 65 or older by 2030. If youre one of them, you probably think often about how to stay as fit and healthy as possible. But, you may not be giving as much thought to the health of your teeth.
Larry Williams, DDS, Assistant Professor, College of Dental Medicine-Illinois and a member of the Academy of General Dentistry, has several oral health tips for older adults.
Many seniors who havent 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.
Know Financial Options
Medicare typically doesnt 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 dont provide coverage for treatment). Research affordable dental plans such as those offered by AARP. If you cant afford needed dental care, there are many low cost programs through dental schools and local dental societies. If youre over 65 and have a disability, you may be eligible for coverage through Medicaid.
Choose The Right Dentist And Communicate Clearly
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.
Dont hesitate to tell your dentist if youve 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 youve 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. Dont forget alcohol and tobacco, which can both increase your risk of oral disease and cancer as you age.
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 its important to keep seeing a dentist and its important for dentists and patients to take a holistic approach to oral health.
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