Some seniors may think that as they get older their teeth become less important so they don’t need dental insurance. Actually, the opposite is true. Adults over 65 are more likely to have tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer.1 To make matters worse, seniors often struggle to keep up good oral hygiene as they get older because they find brushing their teeth and flossing difficult. Paying for dental care can also be an issue. Regular dental care can help you maintain your oral health and dental insurance can help you pay for it.
1. Age related dental problems
While people of all ages are at risk for some of these conditions, the risk of developing most of these conditions is higher for seniors who are age 60 or older. Some of these conditions, like oral cancer, have a dramatically higher incidence rate in seniors than in younger people.
2. Tooth decay
Tooth decay happens when tarter and plaque build-up in the mouth. When it’s not treated, tooth decay can lead to tooth loss and gum disease. The best way to prevent tooth decay is by practicing good oral hygiene that includes brushing and flossing twice a day, using antibacterial mouthwash, and getting regular dental cleanings. But often seniors struggle to keep up a good oral hygiene routine and end up with tooth decay. They also tend to put off going to the dentist for regular cleanings, which can make the problem worse. If you have dental insurance, preventive procedures like cleanings are usually no cost to you, which can make it much easier to keep your mouth healthy.
Twenty percent of adults over 65 have untreated tooth decay2, which can cause cavities. Seniors who take medications each day have an even higher risk for developing cavities.3 If cavities aren’t taken care of right away, they can slowly eat through a tooth, causing it to break, exposing the nerve, or both. Then a root canal may be needed, which can be expensive and painful. Because seniors have a higher risk of getting cavities as well as other dental problems, seeing a dentist regularly is important to maintaining good oral health.
4. Receding gums
Anyone can have receding gums, but it’s a condition that is much more common in seniors than in younger people. As you age, your gums naturally recede a little. However, gum disease, years of smoking, grinding teeth, and other factors can make seniors much more likely to experience receding gums. As gums recede, the teeth may become more sensitive, and the risk of getting an oral infection increases. Food and bacteria can get trapped in the pockets between the gums and the teeth and cause a lot of pain and damage to the teeth. Regular dental cleanings and other professional dental care can make play a big role in helping to prevent or stop receding gums.
5. Gum disease
If your gums are look inflamed or red and bleed easily when you brush your teeth, there’s a good chance that you have gum disease. The risk of developing gum disease increases as you get older but lifestyle factors like smoking or having a poor diet are also factors that impact the development of gum disease. Seniors who don’t have a good oral hygiene routine or eat a balanced diet that is rich in leafy green vegetables have a high risk for developing gum disease.
6. Dry mouth
There are a lot of different factors that can cause dry mouth, but seniors suffer from dry mouth more than other groups. Dry mouth is one of the common side effects of medications, and because seniors take medication at a higher rater than other groups, they are the most likely to have dry mouth from medications. Having dry mouth is more than just annoying, it can also cause a lot of damage to your mouth and your teeth. When your mouth is dry and you’re not making enough saliva, you’re not rinsing bacteria and debris out of your mouth. Saliva works to keep your mouth fresh and clean. Without it your mouth can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
7. Oral cancer
The risk of developing oral cancer goes up with age. Seniors who have smoked for many years or used tobacco products have a high risk of developing oral cancer, especially if they are still smoking. However, part of getting a regular dental checkup is having the dentist check for signs of oral cancer. Regular dental checkups give your dentist the chance to check for any abnormalities in your mouth and biopsy any irregular skin patches that they find.
4 tips to keep your teeth healthy into retirement
1. Brush twice a day, but don’t rush it
You’ve been taught that you should brush your teeth twice a day: once in the morning and once at night before going to sleep. That’s correct, but what about the rest of your mouth? More than 700 different types of bacteria have been detected in the human mouth.4 These microorganisms can be found everywhere, from your tongue and upper mouth to the interior of your cheeks. While most of them are harmless or even beneficial to our health, some bacteria, we’d rather be without.
To clean your mouth efficiently, make sure you brush not only your teeth but also your tongue and upper mouth. Don’t rush through the process. If you brush your teeth and mouth for a mere 20 seconds, you can’t expect to clean them efficiently. You have a lot of ground to cover, and you need to spend more than a few seconds on each tooth.
A great way to make sure you are cleaning your mouth properly, without rushing through it or overdoing it, is to brush your teeth for the duration of an entire song.
2. Keep your gums healthy
Plaque is a type of bacteria that forms on your teeth. If you don’t remove it by brushing, it can cause swelling and soreness in your gums. It can even affect the root of your teeth if left untreated and can lead to a severe gum condition called periodontitis.
The best way to keep your gums healthy is to take good care of your teeth. Brush twice a day, floss, and see your dentist regularly.
3. Floss daily
Most dentists recommend that you floss first and brush your teeth later. Once you start brushing it’s impossible for the bristles to reach all that bad stuff between your teeth, so it’s better to clean them first using dental floss.
Whether your preference is flossing before or after brushing, simply adding it to your daily routine is the key. Pick a time when you are least likely to skip this step.
You may find that it can be tricky to reach all areas around your teeth, especially if you are a senior with reduced dexterity or weakness in your fingers or hands. Water flossers, or interdental cleaners, have become a popular alternative to traditional floss and may be easier for you to maneuver. Be sure to consult your dentist to be sure that you’re using it correctly and seeing positive results.
4. Keep wear and tear under control
Your teeth are incredibly strong, but as you age, they lose some of their strength. All those years of chewing, biting and grinding affect the enamel, making your teeth more sensitive and prone to decay.
While it’s impossible to restore a lifetime of wear and tear, it is possible to keep it under control. Stay away from hard foods, such as nuts, corn on the cob, ice, and hard taco shells. They can chip your enamel or even break your teeth.
Dental insurance for seniors on Medicare & Medicaid
Over 60 million people in the U.S. rely on Medicare for their health insurance.5 But traditional Medicare does not cover dental or vision care.
Medicaid is state run and offers different tiers of dental coverage in different states. Medicaid requires states to provide some level of dental care for children, but states are not required to provide dental benefits to adults. States decide whether to provide dental coverage to adults and what services they will cover, so benefits vary widely from state to state.
Individual dental insurance for seniors
Individual dental insurance can supplement your Medicare coverage and help you pay for preventive care, as well as major dental services. Dental insurance is a smart investment in your health because problems in your mouth can affect other parts of your body. Diseases such as endocarditis, heart disease and pneumonia have been linked to oral infections. There may be affordable dental insurance plans that can fit just about any budget.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.