How Can I Take Care of My Teeth as I Age?
Proper oral care can keep you smiling well into retirement. Brushing at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristle brush are as important as ever. Flossing can help you save your teeth by removing plaque between teeth and below the gum line that your toothbrush cannot reach.
What are some problems I should watch for?
Gingivitis. Most people don’t realize how important it is to take care of their gums. Gingivitis is caused by the bacteria found in plaque that attack the gums. Symptoms of gingivitis include red, swollen gums and possible bleeding when you brush. If you have any of these symptoms, see a dentist at once. Gingivitis can lead to periodontal (gum) disease if problems persist. Most adults show signs of gum disease. Severe gum disease affects about 25 percent of 65- to 74-year-olds. In gum disease, your gums begin to recede, pulling back from the teeth. In the worst cases, bacteria form pockets between the teeth and gums, weakening the bone. All this can lead to tooth loss if untreated, especially in patients with osteoporosis. If regular oral care is too difficult, your dentist can provide alternatives to aid in flossing and prescribe medication to keep the infection from getting worse.
What if it’s too difficult to brush?
If you have arthritis, you may find it difficult to brush and floss for good oral health care and prevention of disease. Ask your dentist for ways to overcome this problem. Certain dental products are designed to make dental care less painful for arthritis sufferers. You may want to try strapping the toothbrush to a larger object, such as a ball, to make the brush more comfortable to handle, or electric toothbrushes can help by doing some of the work for you.
What are the signs of oral cancer?
Oral cancer most often occurs in people over 40 years of age. See a dentist immediately if you notice any red or white patches on your gums or tongue, and watch for sores that fail to heal within two weeks. Unfortunately, oral cancer is often difficult to detect in its early stages, when it can be cured easily. Your dentist can perform a head and neck exam to screen for signs of cancer.
Should I be concerned about dry mouth?
Dry mouth (xerostomia) happens when salivary glands fail to work due to disease, certain medications or cancer treatment. This can make it hard to eat, swallow, taste and speak. In certain cases, such as radiation therapy, dry mouth can lead to severe complications, which is why it is important you see a dentist immediately before beginning any form of cancer treatment. Drinking lots of water and avoiding sweets, tobacco, alcohol and caffeine are some ways to fight dry mouth. Your dentist also can prescribe medications to fight severe dry mouth.
Maintaining your overall health
Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy mouth may keep your body healthier and help you avoid diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The best way to achieve good oral health is to visit your dentist at least twice a year.
It’s a common myth that senior citizens are destined to lose their teeth, reports the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). There is no reason seniors cannot keep their teeth for a lifetime, since tooth loss is simply the result of an oral disease – not the aging process.
The elderly, who make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, are healthier and have kept more of their natural teeth than prior generations. But there’s still room for improvement. Many seniors do not visit a dentist even once a year – one of the key preventive strategies in ensuring that teeth last a lifetime.
“Seniors often take long absences from seeing the dentist,” says AGD spokesperson Nick Russo, DDS. “Sometimes they stop caring as much because they’re not out in the public very much, and they think oral hygiene doesn’t matter.”
Family members should encourage seniors who are disabled or have trouble getting around to seek dental care, Dr. Russo says. Seniors planning to enter a nursing home should inquire about on-site dental care.
Regular dental visits are especially important for older people since many suffer from dry mouth, which slows down the flow of saliva. Saliva plays a major role in preventing tooth decay by rinsing away food particles and neutralizing harmful acids. Dry mouth often comes with old age, but can also be caused by medications like antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants and diuretics. Dry mouth can often be treated by a dentist.
Along with regular dental visits, seniors should floss daily and brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. They should also ask their dentist about fluoride rinses and gels, since studies show that seniors who brush regularly with fluoride toothpaste or use a fluoride rinse or gel regularly have fewer cavities. Seniors are most likely to get cavities where old fillings have chipped or where root surfaces are left unprotected by receding gums.
Other suggestions for keeping teeth for a lifetime: snack in moderation and avoid snacks with sugars and starches, and alert the dentist to any change in medication. As you age, you may become more aware of alternative ways to maintain your oral peak. Let’s review some natural ways to keep your teeth in tip-top condition.
Natural Ways to Maintain your Teeth
Good oral hygiene is, of course, the product of regular dental checkups and cleanings. In between such visits, the use of our favorite herbal preparations, mouthwashes and toothpastes, as well as a little first aid in the temporary treatment of canker sores and toothaches, is a valuable addition to even the best care.
Mix 1 teaspoon each of rosemary, peppermint and lavender. Mix the herbs well and then place 1 teaspoon of the mixture in a cup of boiling water. Steep 15 minutes, then strain. Cool and use as a mouthwash.
Mix 2 teaspoons of sugar, 3 drops of peppermint oil, 3/4 teaspoon of boric acid solution and 4 cups of water. Add food coloring if desired. Put into a quart bottle and shake well. Remember not to drink, just gargle.
Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 3 tablespoons of angelica seeds. Add peppermint, lemon verbena, caraway and rosemary for extra strength. A touch of orris root will perfume the breath with the smell of violet. Cover and steep until cool. Strain and store in a tightly closed container.
Combine 3 drops of cinnamon oil, 2 drops of clove oil, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 3/4 teaspoon of boric acid solution to 4 cups of water. Place in a quart container and shake well.
Cut a fresh strawberry in half and rub your teeth and gums with it. Leave on for 15 minutes, then add some warm water and gently brush. This is not only a good cleaner but promotes health of the gums.
Take lemon rind and rub your teeth and gums, massaging your upper gums downward and your lower gums upward. This helps to remove plaque and tartar.
Mix 1/4 teaspoon of glycerin, 1/4 teaspoon of neutral soap powder, 1 tablespoon of calcium carbonate, 1 teaspoon of acacia (gum arabic) and 2 drops of oil of peppermint. To this mixture add 10 ml of water. Heat and stir for 5 minutes and note the pasty appearance. Each substance has a specific purpose in this formula: glycerin, the sweetener; calcium carbonate, the abrasive; acacia, the thickener; soap, the cleansing agent; and oil of peppermint, the flavoring agent.
Canker sores in the mouth may be caused by bacteria or viruses, by chemical irritants such as alcohol and tobacco, or by gastric upset. There are numerous herbal preparations which can help to clear up these painful sores.
Boil a tea bag in water and apply it to the affected area for 5 minutes.
Swish a couple of tablespoons of oil of myrrh in your mouth, concentrating it at the site of the canker sore.
Boil a tablespoon of cankerroot in a cup of water. Strain and apply this to the canker sore. The very name of this plant suggests its ancient use among herbalists.
A good mouthwash for canker sores can be made by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of thyme. Steep for 15 minutes, and it’s ready to use.
Toothaches are indicative of a problem that needs dental attention. However, in the event the pain strikes at 2 a.m., when not too many dental offices are open, you can make some herbal remedies to gain some temporary relief.
The most time-tested remedy is to soak a cotton swab with oil of cloves and apply it to the tooth. Clove oil is a topical anesthetic.
Soak a cotton ball with ammonia and place it over the aching tooth.
For a remedy that will make you feel worse before you feel better, apply a few grains of cayenne pepper to the tooth and gum. As soon as the original smarting stops, the toothache will subside.
An ancient Hindu remedy is to cut open a fresh ripe fig. Place the juice on the affected tooth and continue to repeat this for 15 minute intervals until the toothache goes away.
Retirement allows you to not only spend time with a loved one, but also remember to spend time on yourself. Understand the ways to care for your oral health both with dental care products suggested by the ADA, or spend some time with your loved one and explore alternatives for the best oral care.
Source: Academy of General Dentistry