Better Dental Care For Seniors Means Better Quality Of Life
Six years ago, the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) and Wrigley chewing gum company established National Dental Hygiene Month. Although this observance primarily focuses on teaching children how to care for their teeth and gums, it is also a good reminder about the importance of dental care for seniors.
Throughout October, the ADHA and Wrigley Company sponsor educational events, free clinics, online forums, and more to raise awareness about building good oral habits such as:
- Brushing twice a day — after breakfast and before bed — using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
- Flossing once a day, preferably before bed.
- Using an antimicrobial mouthwash after brushing.
- Eating a balanced diet.
The ADHA also encourages people to refresh themselves on proper tooth brushing techniques, like brushing the tops of the teeth, since this area is often neglected. Furthermore, it’s important to floss the teeth located in the back of the mouth as thoroughly as the ones in the front.
Oral hygiene supports older adults’ wellbeing and quality of life. It not only reduces the risk of common oral health problems, but it also promotes essential actions like eating. With this in mind, learn why dental care for seniors is important and ways to support their oral health.
Why is dental care for seniors important?
Many people don’t realize how much dental health plays in their general wellbeing. According to the American Dental Association, oral conditions are among the most common reasons people seek emergency medical treatment.
Unfortunately, receiving affordable dental care for seniors is a serious issue. When older adults lose their employer-sponsored health insurance upon retirement, they usually lose dental coverage as well, since Medicare does not cover these services. Additionally, transportation issues, memory loss, cognitive decline, and physical limitations can also contribute to poor oral health.
People of every age must practice healthy habits that support healthy teeth and gums. However, older adults might encounter specific problems regarding their oral health as they age. Fortunately, seniors can solve many of these issues with help from their dentist and doctor.
What happens to our teeth when we age?
Aging brings many changes, including in your oral health. As a result, older adults sometimes develop conditions they may not have experienced in their younger years. This is why dental care for seniors is vital. Most of these issues can be readily recognized, sorted out, or even avoided when properly informed.
What are common oral health problems for older adults?
Although dry mouth doesn’t automatically come with aging, some things, like chronic conditions or prescription medications, increase the likelihood of this condition developing, as well as cavities or tooth decay.
Aging can decrease enamel and dentin, a bone-like tissue found underneath the enamel of teeth. This change, as well as years of consuming food and beverages that can stain the teeth, can lead to discoloration or darkening of the teeth. In some cases, it could indicate a bigger health issue.
Attrition is a fancy way of describing ordinary wear and tear — decades of chewing and grinding wears down the enamel. As a result, attrition can raise the possibility of cavities.
The risk of developing oral diseases increases with age. These problems can range from something as serious as cancer to thrush, a mouth condition marked by unusual fungal growth.
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Gum disease occurs from excess plaque formation on the teeth. Recognizing the signs is critical in promoting healthy dental care for seniors because early treatment will prevent additional damage. Luckily, good dental hygiene can easily prevent this problem.
Gum disease and root decay go hand-in-hand. This condition causes gum recession, exposing the roots of the teeth. Root decay can accelerate tooth decay if left untreated.
Many adults experience heightened tooth sensitivity, the older they get. This sensitivity occurs as gums gradually recede, which is a normal part of aging. In turn, areas not protected by enamel or the gums become more sensitive. Sometimes, sensitive teeth can be a sign of another problem, such as cavities or a fractured tooth.
What are the ways to support dental care for seniors?
Teeth and gum issues might have a higher chance of occurring with age, but that doesn’t mean they always will. Being proactive and staying on top of daily brushing and flossing ensures many common oral problems never arise.
Here are a few ways to promote proper dental care for seniors:
- Schedule routine dental appointments
- Brush twice a day and floss once
- Swish with an antibacterial mouthwash
- Use fluoride toothpaste or a rinse every day.
- Avoid tobacco products
- Keep a low-sugar, low-starch diet.
- Boost hydration by drinking more water, chewing sugar-free gum, and avoiding beverages such as coffee and alcohol, which can increase dehydration.
- Practice good denture care
- Get enough calcium, which is about 1,000 mg for seniors.
Dental Care For Seniors On A Limited Budget
Although receiving adequate dental care can be a challenge for seniors with limited financial resources, there are many assistance programs to help older adults afford quality dental services at discounted rates.
Because assistance varies across states, counties, and even cities, contact your community dental society to learn where you can find the closest programs and places where you can find affordable care.
You might also find affordable dental care for seniors through Authority Dental’s Wisdom Tooth Project. Formerly Oral Health America, Authority Dental helps older adults find low-cost dental services through community dentists, clinics, and dental schools. Alternatively, seniors can also find local, affordable treatment through the Dental Lifeline Network.
Dental Discount Plans
Dental discount plans are an excellent way for seniors to lower their dental expenses. They work similarly to a subscription service or membership, where the recipient pays a monthly or annual fee. In exchange, they can receive discounted rates for routine dental care.
Elders can receive between 10% and 60% off the standard service price. Additionally, dental discount plans have no copays, premiums, deductibles, or yearly limits. Instead of paying the dentist through the insurance provider, you pay directly for the service you received. These plans may also offer reduced prices for vision services, medications, hearing, and more.
Of course, savings can range depending on the dentist, state and city, and discount plan type. However, these discounts are only eligible for in-network dentists, which is important to consider.
Forgetting or neglecting oral health is one sign your loved one may need help with activities of daily living. But with a qualified caregiver, you’ll get peace of mind while your loved one keeps their independence. An in-home care worker can assist with ADLs, transportation, meal preparation, and more.
Learn how we can find the right caregiver for your loved one. Call 1-888-541-1136. We’re here to help!
For more resources for seniors, family members, and caregivers, check out the Blog.
- Colgate Contributor. “Oral Care Tips for Older Adults.” Oral Health and Dental Care, www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/life-stages/oral-care-age-55-up/oral-care-tips-for-older-adults-0213.
- Friedman, Michael. “Dental Care for Seniors.” WebMD, WebMD, 9 Oct. 2019, www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/dental-care-seniors#3.
- Gaunt, Angelike. “7 Reasons Senior Dental Care Is Important.” A Place for Mom, 4 Sept. 2020, www.aplaceformom.com/caregiver-resources/articles/senior-dental-care.
- Hoyt, Jeff. “Affordable Dental Care for Seniors: How to Pay for Elderly Dental Plans.” SeniorLiving.org, 26 Feb. 2020, www.seniorliving.org/health/senior-dental-care/.
- Nowak, Simon. “Best Discount Dental Plans for 2020: Join Today and Get a FREE Month.” Authority Dental, 29 Sept. 2020, www.authoritydental.com/dental-discount-plans.
- “October Is National Dental Hygiene Month.” Concorde Career College, 4 Dec. 2019, www.concorde.edu/about-us/blog/health-care-insights/october-dental-hygiene-month.