Caring for older teeth
Whilst the world rises to the challenges of social isolation whilst we aim to contain the Corona virus, this has a massive impact on our elderly population. Just under 12 million people in the UK are now 65 and over and only 4% of these are in care homes, which means 11.5 million are living independently and probably self-isolating.
Age brings particular oral health challenges. As greater numbers of older people are now keeping their own teeth for longer, this does have implications for dental provision and home carers. Most of this population rely upon oral health professionals to help them prevent or treat some of the most common issues. Isolation will therefore mean a lack of this support, at least for a period of time.
Why is it important to look after our teeth as we age?
Elderly people who are suffering with poor oral health could be in pain and discomfort and experience problems their mouth and jaw. They might also have difficulties eating and drinking which could lead to nutritional deficiencies which could have an impact on their wider health.
So, what are the most common issues older people have?
- Keeping our natural teeth further into life means there is a greater need for support daily, dental treatment and restorative work, as well as more care for unrestored teeth.
- Your gums may recede (shrink back) as you get older, and your teeth may become a little more sensitive as a result.
- You may find it more difficult to clean your teeth properly if you have problems with your hands or arms, or if your eyesight is poor.
- Some people take regular medication which makes their mouth dry. Saliva helps to protect your teeth against decay
- Gum disease can cause gum inflammation (swelling and soreness), gums that bleed when brushed, loose teeth, receding gums and bad breath
What can I do to better care for my teeth during this time?
- Thoroughly remove plaque from your teeth (and dentures if you have them) last thing at night and at least one other time during the day
- Cut down on how often you have food and drinks containing sugar – especially sweets that last longer in the mouth such as boiled sweets or mints.
- If you do eat something sugary, drink water straight afterwards, swilling it around your mouth to rinse your teeth
- To clean your dentures, the general rule is: brush and soak every day. Brush your dentures first, to help remove any bits of food. Use a non-abrasive denture cleaner, not toothpaste. Be careful not to scrub too hard as this may cause grooves in the surface.
- Make sure you brush all the surfaces of the dentures, including the surface that fits against your gums. This is especially important if you use any kind of denture fixative.
- Soak your dentures every day in a denture-cleaning solution. This will help remove any plaque and stubborn stains that are left. It will also help to disinfect your dentures, leaving them feeling fresher. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- To clean your teeth, use a fluoride toothpaste containing 1350 to 1500ppm (parts per million) of fluoride. There are many special toothpastes on the market, including tartar control and total care toothpastes.
- You should clean in between your teeth at least once a day using interdental brushes or dental floss
- To help clean between your teeth you could use an ‘interdental brush’, floss or tape. If you have arthritis you may find it difficult to grip a toothbrush handle, but you can get handle adapters.
- Electric or ‘power’ toothbrushes are also ideal for people with limited movement. The handles are thicker and easier to hold and the oscillating head does most of the work.
- Power toothbrushes have been proven to remove more plaque than manual toothbrushes but if you find an electric toothbrush too harsh, there are some available with variable power settings. If these don’t suit you, use a manual soft bristle brush, making sure you clean every surface of each tooth twice per day with a fluoride toothpast
- To make sure all plaque is removed, plaque can be stained with a special dye painted on your teeth with a cotton bud, or with special ‘disclosing tablets’ bought online from a reputable source. This stain is harmless and will show any areas of your mouth which need closer attention. Look particularly where the teeth and gums meet. A further brushing will remove the stained plaque.