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Dental Care for Seniors: How to Keep Your Teeth Healthy Into Retirement

We hear people say all the time that someone’s smile could brighten a room.
senior citizen couple looking at x-rays with dentist, dental care for seniors: how to keep your teeth healthy into retirement

Sure, they could be referring to a radiant personality, but most of the time they are talking about something more tangible: healthy teeth and gums.

Most people think that as we age, taking care of our teeth becomes pointless. One common misconception is that losing your teeth is inevitable when you get old. It’s part of the body’s natural aging process, so why even bother?

Here’s the truth: while tooth decay is a major problem, especially for aging people, studies have shown that good oral hygiene can help you keep your teeth intact into retirement. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more adults can keep their natural teeth well beyond 60 years of age.

Here are eight tips that will help you keep your teeth healthy well into your retirement years.

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. 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.

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, quit smoking, and see your dentist regularly. If you’ve been skipping these steps lately, make sure to schedule an appointment if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Your gums are bleeding when you brush your teeth;
  • Gums that pull back from the teeth;
  • Bad breath;
  • Loose teeth.

Don’t Forget to Floss

Most dentists recommend that you floss first and brush your teeth later. The logic goes like this: 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.

But good news for anti-flossers: according to one recent study, flossing isn’t as effective as dentists might have you believe. Even the American Academy of Periodontology has acknowledged that science hasn’t backed up this popular recommendation. However, they still recommend that people continue flossing every day, especially if they have bleeding or red gums.

Keep Wear and Tear Under Control

Your teeth are incredibly strong, but as you age, they lose some of their amazing 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.

Don’t Let Your Mouth Dry Out

It’s well-known that saliva helps clean teeth and protects them from decay. As you age, your mouth gets drier. It could happen because dry mouth is a common side effect of many prescription and nonprescription medication, or simply because this process is a natural consequence of senescence. Whatever the reason, make sure to drink plenty of water. You can also chew gum or suck on sugarless candies to maintain a constant flow of saliva. If you suspect your medications are to blame for your dry mouth, talk to your doctor about changing them.

Be Wary of Acid

Citrus fruits, fizzy drinks, and even some natural juices are rich in acid. Sweets and starchy foods, such as rice, potatoes, bread, and pasta cause the mouth to produce acid. Since you aren’t very likely to give up on these foods and beverages now, learn how to reduce their effects. For instance, don’t slosh fizzy drinks around in your mouth. Drink milk or eat cheese to cancel out the acid in some foods. Don’t eat starchy foods as snacks, but with the main course to help wash the acid away.

Schedule Regular Dentist Appointments

It’s easy to skip the dentist when there are so many other things bothering you right now. Your back is aching, your knees are more fragile, and you must see your heart doctor every other month. But just because your teeth look healthy now, it doesn’t mean you should stop caring for them. Remember, your teeth are more prone to decay as you get older, so now more than ever you shouldn’t skip any dentist appointments if you want to keep your pearly whites.

Get Insurance

One of the main reasons people end up losing their teeth as they get older is because they can’t afford the high price of dental care. Everybody is talking about healthcare for the aging population, but many are completely ignoring dental care. But here’s the thing: your teeth and gums are as much part of your body as any other organ, so why would you ignore them?

Reports have shown that about 62% of 65 year olds have dental insurance, and about 26% of 75 year olds have dental insurance, meaning that a large proportion of the retired population doesn’t have access to proper dental care. That can and must change. Getting dental insurance can not only reduce your costs but also ensure that you’ll keep your healthy teeth into retirement.

Losing your teeth isn’t just a normal part of the aging process. It’s a sign of untreated periodontal problems. If you’ve been practicing good oral hygiene, these tips shouldn’t come as news to you. However, one thing that you need to take into consideration is getting a dental insurance plan.

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.
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