Oral Health Tips for Seniors and Caregivers

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Say cheese! April is National Oral Health Month in Canada. Did you know that, when it comes to taking care of our teeth, Canada has some the best access to oral health care in the world?

However, there remains a mistaken belief that only younger people get cavities. In fact, the opposite is true. Cavities occur more often in older adults. The good news is that healthy teeth and gums is possible at any age!

Good Oral Health Improves Your Overall Health

Dentistry isn’t just about keeping your smile beautiful. Good dental hygiene is important to your overall health and wellbeing.

Our mouths are teeming with bacteria. This is normal and most are harmless. Daily brushing and flossing keep the levels of bacteria under control. When oral care is lacking, however, problems can occur. The result? Cavities, gum disease, tooth decay, and periodontitis, which can lead to infections that spread to other parts of the body, including the heart.

What Oral Health Risks Are Seniors More Prone To?

Older woman with short hair holding dentures You may wonder why you’re suddenly getting cavities when you haven’t had them in years. Wear and tear, combined with medical conditions, medications, and a decrease in dental care, can result in a second round of cavity prone years.

Triggered by many common medications, dry mouth is an overlooked cause of cavities in seniors.  A side effect of medications -including those for allergies or asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety or depression, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases- the decreased saliva production can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.

Receding gums can also be a problem for older adults. Too much pressure exerted when brushing teeth and the natural process of gums pulling away from teeth as we age are major contributors to recession. When root surfaces are exposed, they are more vulnerable to decay because roots are not protected by the same enamel that protects your teeth.

How Can Seniors Improve Their Oral Health?

Most people are aware that brushing and flossing twice a day is important. Yet, there are other things you can do to protect your teeth.

These include:

  • It can’t be said enough: Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day—in the morning and at night—and floss at least once a day. Plaque can quickly build up on the teeth of older adults. Some people find that an electric toothbrush is easier to use than a standard one.
  • If you have implants, brush and floss them daily, but very carefully. Implants aren’t as strong as your natural teeth.
  • Watch for the signs of gum disease. These signs include gums that bleed after brushing or after eating hard foods, such as apples.
  • See your dentist and hygienist for regular check-ups.
  • Keep the dentist up to date on any new medicines you are taking.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes whole grain foods, vegetables, and fruits. Good nutrition is vital to maintaining healthy gums and avoiding tooth decay.
  • Avoid sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Avoid using tobacco products. They can affect dental and general health.

How To Care For Dentures

Senior man in brown and blue sweater with his arm around an older woman with dyed red hair, smiling.

To prevent gum irritation or bad breath, care for your dentures as you would your teeth.  Sometimes overlooked, it’s also important to care for your gums. You – or your caregiver – should brush your gums, tongue, and the roof of your mouth every day with a soft-bristled brush before you put in your dentures.

To care for dentures:

  • Stand over a folded towel or bowl of water when you or your caregiver takes the dentures out. This way if you drop them, they will not break.
  • Store dentures in lukewarm water or denture-cleaning liquid overnight. Do not put them in hot water, and do not let them dry out.
  • Clean dentures every day. Cleaning prevents stains and helps your mouth stay healthy.
    • Rinse the dentures to remove any loose food.
    • Brush every surface gently to avoid damage. Use a brush designed for cleaning dentures or a toothbrush with soft bristles. Do not brush with toothpaste or anything abrasive. It can scratch the dentures. Do not use household cleansers.
    • Use a denture cleanser such as Polident or Equate.
  • Always take dentures out at night to give your mouth a chance to rest. This also lowers the risk of choking if the dentures become loose while you are sleeping.

Toothbrush Modifications For Those With Arthritis

Older adults with arthritis sometimes have trouble brushing their teeth because they can’t easily hold a toothbrush. If this is the case:

  • Double-headed toothbrushes can help those with reduced dexterity.
  • Try an electric toothbrush – they are easier to hold and can remove 21 % more plaque..
  • Modifications to the handle of the toothbrush may help improve toothbrushing ability. The handle can be modified by:
    • Adding acrylic to mould to an older adult’s grip
    • Enlarge the handle of a non-electric toothbrush by wrapping a sponge, an elastic bandage, or adhesive tape around it.
  • You may also be able to buy specially designed toothbrushes, toothpaste dispensers, and floss holders.

Dental Coverage for Seniors

For seniors who worry about the cost of dental care, some provinces have programs that provide dental assistance for older adults. Contact your local public health office for information about dental care in your area. Here is a list to get you started:

Dental & Optical Assistance for Seniors Program.

Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program

Manitoba Public Health

Saskatchewan Supplementary Health Benefits

Government of Quebec

Dementia and Dental Care

As dementia or Alzheimer’s disease progresses, a person may forget how to brush their teeth or why it’s important. If you are a caregiver, you may have to assist or take a more hands-on approach. Follow this link to the Canadian Dental Association for a list of resources and help.

Rest assured, if your loved one lives at an All Seniors Care retirement residence, the level of support they require is assessed as soon as they move in.  If needed, their oral hygiene needs, denturist referral, denture and oral hygiene are provided daily.

Dental care is a vital part of retirement living

Senior man, smiling, balding, in a burgundy shirt, sitting next to a bouquet of pink flowers.

At All Seniors Care Living Centres, we assist all our residents manage their health, including those requiring memory support and, if needed, residents of our independent living communities. We have wonderful seniors care in Saskatoon, retirement homes in Calgary, independent senior living in Regina, and retirement homes in Quebec and Ontario.

If you would like support and are choosing a retirement community near you, we invite you to contact us. We would love to schedule a visit and speak with you about all that we can offer you or your loved one.

Writer  – Julianna McLeod

Julianna is a health and wellness expert at All Seniors Care. Her mission is to create content that empowers seniors to form sustainable solutions for lasting health and happiness. She is an experienced writer, editor, and Recreational Therapist living in Toronto.

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