The Importance of Dental Health for Seniors: Preventing Gum Disease and Tooth Loss

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elderly woman brushing her teeth to maintain dental health for seniors
September 25, 2023

As we navigate through the later stages of life, it is essential to prioritize our dental health, especially for seniors who may face challenges in maintaining optimal oral hygiene. Preventing gum disease and tooth loss becomes more and more important with age to ensure a comfortable and healthy lifestyle. It is essential to explore the importance of dental health for seniors and effective strategies to combat dental challenges so to keep smiling confidently.

The Link Between Aging and Dental Health

Aging introduces several factors that can affect your dental health. Seniors often face oral health issues such as tooth decay, gum disease, dry mouth, and tooth sensitivity [1]. These issues can lead to discomfort, pain, difficulty eating, and even negatively affect one’s self-esteem.

Tooth decay becomes common among seniors due to factors like weakened enamel, dry mouth, and dietary habits [1]. Gum disease, which includes gingivitis and periodontitis, is also common and can lead to tooth loss if not treated properly, or at all. Additionally, dry mouth, which is typically caused by medications or certain medical conditions, reduces the amount of saliva produced and increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Tooth sensitivity can make eating certain foods, particularly ones that are especially hot or cold, uncomfortable. 

How Can Gum Disease Affect Your Health?

The link between gum disease, or periodontal disease, and overall health goes far beyond the oral cavity. Research has shown that there is a large correlation between gum disease and more threatening conditions in seniors. When gum disease goes without treatment, the oral bacteria and inflammation can go into the bloodstream which may affect distant organs and systems.

How Can Gum Disease Cause Other Health Issues?

Gum disease and cardiovascular disease are highly correlated. Studies have shown that inflammation caused by gum disease can contribute to the development or progression of heart disease, which leads to a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular issues [2]. Research is still being conducted on why this correlation exists, but it is believed that the bacteria and inflammatory substances released in gum disease can trigger a systemic inflammatory response, which can affect the blood vessels and prompt the formation of arterial plaques. 

Gum disease is also associated with diabetes, through a bidirectional relationship — meaning, each condition influences the other [3]. Poorly treated diabetes can increase the risk of gum disease, and gum disease can make it more difficult to control blood sugar levels. Gum disease often causes insulin resistance, impairment of glycemic control, and potentially worsened diabetic complications. Because of this, it is especially important for those with diabetes to effectively manage it to reduce the risk of developing gum disease, and vice versa. 

Strategies for Maintaining Dental Health in Seniors

Maintaining proper dental health and reducing the risk of developing gum disease among seniors requires a proactive approach that includes careful attention to the following: 

  • Brushing Techniques and Frequency: You should be brushing your teeth at least twice a day using a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Brush your teeth gently and thoroughly, making sure you brush each and every tooth’s surface, including the gumline. Using a toothbrush with a small head and comfortable grip can make brushing easier for seniors with dexterity issues. If you find you have trouble gauging how long you should be brushing, set a timer, or play a song that is around 2 minutes to help. 
  • Flossing and Interdental Cleaning: Along with regular brushing, seniors should also be flossing and interdental cleaning, as these practices have a large role in preventing gum disease. Flossing daily removes plaque and food particles from between the teeth and along the gumline. Other interdental cleaning tools, such as brushes or water flossers, can also be helpful, especially for seniors with limited dexterity. 
  • Selecting the Correct Oral Care Products: There are oral care products available that cater to specific needs. For example, toothpaste containing fluoride helps strengthen tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay. If you have a dry mouth, using a moisturizing mouth rinse or a saliva substitute can help alleviate dryness and protect against conditions associated with reduced saliva flow. 
  • Regular Dental Check-Ups: Seniors should continue with regular visits to the dentist for check-ups and professional cleanings. Dentists are trained to identify early signs of gum disease or other oral health conditions and can provide the appropriate advice and treatment to care for them. Your recommended frequency of visits may vary depending on your personal needs, but a check-up every 6 months is the typical frequency for the average individual. 
  • Addressing Dental Issues Early: If you think you may be experiencing a dental issue, it is essential to address it promptly to prevent the progression of gum disease and tooth loss. Any signs of gum inflammation, bleeding, or tooth sensitivity should be reported to your dentist immediately. By intervening early, you can help preserve your teeth and prevent further damage to the gums. 
  • Balanced Diet: A healthy diet is important for maintaining oral health. Seniors must focus on consuming a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to prevent oral conditions. Foods that are high in calcium, such as dairy and leafy greens, help strengthen the teeth and other bones. Additionally, crunchy fruits and vegetables, like apples and carrots, not only provide essential nutrients but also help stimulate saliva flow, which aids in the natural cleansing of the teeth and gums. 
  • Limiting Foods High in Sugar and Acid: Along with consuming a healthy diet, seniors should also be mindful of how much sugar and acid they take in, as these can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. Candy and acidic beverages should be consumed in moderation, if at all. If consumed, seniors may benefit from rinsing their mouths with water afterward and waiting some time before brushing away the softened tooth enamel [4]. 
  • Quitting Smoking and Reducing Alcohol Consumption [5]: Smoking has detrimental effects on oral health, including an increased risk of gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer. It is advised that seniors quit smoking to improve their oral health, as well as their overall health. Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to dry mouth and gum disease. Avoiding alcohol can also improve one’s dental well-being. 

Dental Care Options for Seniors

Fortunately, there are many dental care options available for seniors who have faced dental challenges, such as tooth loss or gum disease [6]. These include: 

  • Dentures are a common solution for seniors who have lost some, or all, of their natural teeth. Seniors may get complete dentures, or partial dentures, which are designed to replace only a few missing teeth. Dentures are custom-made to comfortably fit each unique mouth so that seniors can eat, speak, and smile with ease. 
  • Dental Implants have changed tooth replacement options completely, offering a more permanent solution than dentures. Dental implants are small posts made of titanium that are surgically inserted into the jawbone. Once the implants fuse with the bone, they can support dental crowns, bridges, or dentures. 
  • Dental Bridges are used to replace one or more missing teeth. They consist of dental browns on healthy teeth with a false tooth attached in between. Bridges can help seniors regain proper chewing and prevent their surrounding teeth from shifting. 
  • Dental Crowns, or “caps,” are fake teeth that cover a damaged or weakened tooth. Crowns can be used to protect a weakened tooth after a root canal or restore a broken or decayed tooth. They can provide strength and stability, allowing seniors to keep their natural teeth for as long as possible. 
  • Periodontal Treatments are used especially for seniors with gum disease. Scaling and root planing, or deep cleaning, can remove plaque and tartar buildup from below the gum line. Surgical treatments may be necessary in more extreme cases to address gum pockets and promote gum tissue regeneration. 

Senior Health Care Services at Greater Good Health

In conclusion, the importance of dental health for seniors cannot be overlooked. Maintaining healthy teeth and gums is essential for the overall health and well-being of seniors. By implementing the strategies discussed in this blog post, seniors can reduce the risk of gum disease and tooth loss, allowing them to enjoy a confident and comfortable smile as they age. Greater Good Health provides primary care for seniors to monitor the signs and effects of gum disease. Additionally, we provide preventative care and chronic care management for any correlating diseases. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or find a primary care location near you.