Healthy Aging Month Tips: Oral Health

Photo: Mimagephotography/shutterstock

By Dr. Brian Novy

As we age, cavities may seem like a problem of the past, but in reality there are still many opportunities to prevent oral health issues.

As the body matures, so does the mouth, and the changes affect not just the teeth, but the gums and the bone that support our teeth.

Research shows that poor oral health can exacerbate chronic health problems that people might have once thought were unrelated–-such as diabetes and heart disease. Another challenge is the increase of medications at an older age that can cause dry mouth and trigger increased risk for tooth decay.

The majority of older Americans take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Oral health prevention and regular dental visits are the key to maintaining a healthy mouth at any age. Follow these tips to ensure your mouth remains healthy well beyond retirement:

1. Hydrate.

Stay hydrated with liquids that aren’t flavored–water is the best beverage. Save the soda––EVEN DIET SODA––for mealtimes.

2. Tap water is ideal.

If you get thirsty in the middle of the night, drink from the faucet rather than bottled water (tap water has a higher pH than bottled water and may have fluoride for added benefit) Believe it or not, fluoride is a crucial part of having healthy teeth.

3. Pick your snacks wisely.

Choose snacks that are high in protein like yogurt, cheese, and nuts which help neutralize acids found in plaque.

4. Avoid candy and sugars.

If you have a sweet tooth, try to follow your sweet snack with one of the foods mentioned in #3 above.

5. Bedtime routine.

Be sure to brush your teeth right before you go to bed, and avoid rinsing the toothpaste residue from your mouth, which can help keep your teeth decay resistant.

6. Keep all types of teeth clean.

If you wear partial dentures, be sure to keep your remaining teeth extra clean––partials have a tendency to act as plaque traps. Even if you have no natural teeth and have dentures, professional care helps to maintain the overall health of the teeth and mouth.

7. Flossing.

If flossing becomes difficult, invest in a waterpik or other device recommended by a dental professional that can help you flush plaque and debris from between your teeth.

8. Mouthwash.

Consider adding mouthwash to your nightly routine before bed; be sure to choose one with fluoride. Fluoride provides protection against dental decay at all ages.

9. Visit your dentist.

Everyone at any age needs to visit the dentist at least twice a year and some patients need to visit the dentist four times a year.

10. Improve communication with your dentist.

Before you leave for your dentist appointment, make a list of your current medications, write down your questions and take notes. As mentioned above, medications can cause dry mouth, so ask your dentist for recommendations on alternative medications or prescribe a medicine that helps your salivary glands work better.

Dr. Brian Novy, DDS, FADI, is director of practice improvement at DentaQuest Institute, a dental health benefits provider.

Photo: Mimagephotography/Shutterstock

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