Did you know that by 2030 20% of the U.S. population will be 65 or older? That’s 70 million people. If you’re one of them, there’s a good chance you spend a lot of time thinking about how to enjoy this period of your life the most, and that often includes living a healthy, fit lifestyle. While eating right and moving your body are crucial in this endeavor, many often neglect to think about their oral health. With the growing mountain of evidence linking oral health to a number of other health conditions (heart disease, cancer, dementia, etc), it’s never been so important to take care of your teeth and gums. And it goes further than just brushing and flossing daily. Not sure where to start? Here are a number of teeth tips for older adults from Academy of General Dentistry member, Larry Williams, DDS, and a recent News Medical article.
- Expect to see oral health changes. A lot of kids experience tooth decay, only to have it subside during adulthood. Many seniors find themselves surprised when it comes back later in life. There are several reasons why: natural wear and tear (ie, erosion of tooth enamel, gum recession, etc), development of diabetes, dry mouth from medications, diet changes, and so on and so forth. When you expect the changes, you’ll notice them sooner.
- Have a financial plan. Medicare usually doesn’t provide dental coverage. Do you homework and know your options. Coverage may be available through your previous employer. You can also explore Medicare Advantage or discount dental plans from organizations like AARP. If you can’t afford necessary dental care, many dental schools and local dental societies provide low cost programs.
- Take the time to find the right dentist. Be sure to discuss any health problems, such as diabetes, past cancer diagnosis, or a stroke with your dentist, as well as any medications you take. Don’t hesitate to tell your dentist if you’ve recently lost a loved one or suffered some traumatic life event. Stress and anxiety can have a dramatic affect on all aspects of your health. Discuss your diet and lifestyle, including alcohol and tobacco use. These may offer clues to any dental problems you’re experiencing. If your current dentist isn’t interested in discussing these things with you, it’s time to find a new dentist.
- Fine tune your oral hygiene routine. While you should absolutely keep brushing, you should take it easy as you age. Gums get thinner and aggressive brushing can do damage. If you have arthritis or another condition that makes it difficult to brush, consider switching to an electric model. Switch to a sensitive toothpaste.
“Every day there are more people turning 65 than there are babies being born so this older population is really growing,” Dr. Williams stated. “We experience so many changes as we age so it’s important to keep seeing a dentist and it’s important for dentists and patients to take a holistic approach to oral health.