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The Importance of Oral Health and Hygiene As We Age

The Importance of Oral Health and Hygiene As We Age

October is Dental Hygiene Month

A century ago, the need for dentures later in life was considered a natural part of aging. Today, three-quarters of people over the age of 65 retain at least some of their natural teeth. While the improvement in oral health care among seniors is something to smile about, our aging loved ones still need to be diligent when it comes to their teeth.

Even with regular brushing and flossing, older people still have higher rates of gum disease, dental decay, oral cancer, mouth infections, and tooth loss. Our team at FirstLight® addressed several oral health and hygiene issues that can help seniors maintain a healthy smile as they age.

TOOTH DECAY: Tooth decay can lead to cavities, which can cause pain, infection, and even tooth loss. Most often, tooth decay is caused by a build-up of plaque and tartar. A diet with sugary foods, snacking between meals (and not brushing after), and a decrease in saliva production due to medication or medical conditions can be the main culprits of tooth decay.

Prevention is the best approach. Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, decrease the number of sugary foods you intake and drink water after each meal. Other things you can do include:

  • Switch to an electric toothbrush for an easier, more effective way to clean your teeth and gums
  • Talk to your dentist about fluoride rinse options
  • Consider fillings and/or crowns to slowdown advanced tooth decay

GUM DISEASE: Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is caused by bacteria in plaque and tartar. It is a potentially serious condition that can affect people of all ages, but especially those over 60. Several factors can increase the severity of gum disease, including:

  • Poor diet
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Systemic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer
  • Environmental factors, such as stress and smoking
  • Certain medications

The good news with gum disease is that it is both preventable and treatable if treated early.

RECEDING GUMS: Receding gums is a gradual process where gums shrink away from teeth. Poor dental hygiene, family history, smoking and teeth grinding can contribute to receding gums. When your gums recede, your teeth become sensitive and the root of the tooth becomes exposed, which can lead to damage to your oral tissues and an increased likelihood of developing gum disease and tooth loss. Avoid receding gums by doing these simple things:

  • Visit your dentist every 6 months
  • Don’t smoke
  • Avoid sugary foods
  • Talk to your dentist about treatment options such as a deep cleaning or scaling

DRY MOUTH: Some people experience a decrease in saliva production as they age. This can cause dry mouth. When ignored, dry mouth can result in dry, cracked lips and a swollen tongue, making it difficult to speak and swallow. It can also lead to cavities. Also be aware that some medications our elderly loved ones are taking can be the root cause of this condition.

To reduce dry mouth, you should:

  • Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day
  • Avoid sugary foods and drinks
  • Chew gum and consume lozenges
  • Use a mouth rinse recommended by your dentist to help prevent acid build-up

ORAL CANCER: As we age, the chance of oral cancer increases. The American Cancer Society reports that more than half of all oral cancer patients are 65 years of age and older. Therefore, the older you get, the more important it becomes to take care of your oral health. Keep you and your mouth healthy with these tips:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Protect your lips from lip cancer by limiting exposure to the sun and using a lip balm with sunscreen
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Get regular dental examinations that include oral cancer screenings
  • Regularly check your mouth at home. If you notice anything new or different, visit your dentist to have it checked

Your teeth can last a lifetime with proper home care and regular dental checkups. No matter what your age, you can keep your teeth and gums healthy by brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and seeing your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups.

We are proud to CHAMPION the family caregiver, offering empathy, advice, and support for those who provide countless hours of care to their loved ones. At FirstLight Home Care we want to provide a helping hand, relieve some of the stress that comes with caregiving and give you back a few hours in your overwhelmingly busy day.


American Dental Association:

Harvard Medical School:

American Cancer Society(ACS):

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