Practicing Good Dental Health at Any Age
by Dr. Angela Canfield, DDS
Making your teeth healthy and your smile shiny is a matter for all ages. Keep in mind, cavities can happen at any age. Adults are retaining their teeth longer, and dentures are not a given in the aging process. This trend also means cavities may be more likely. There is no time like the present to improve your at-home dental routine and stay informed of what to expect as your teeth age.
Whether caring for natural teeth or dentures, older adults face a variety of oral concerns from tooth decay to gum disease. And research has shown unhealthy bacteria in the mouth have a direct correlation to other more severe medical issues such as heart disease, pneumonia, dementia and diabetes.
Let’s make this simple and focus on the four key habits for a healthy mouth and smile for the young or young at heart: brush, floss, rinse and chew.
Brushing twice a day for two minutes each time is still the rule of thumb at any age. And contrary to what you may have been taught, you should be using a soft-bristled brush on your pearly whites. The proper technique for brushing includes small circular motions on the teeth and light back and forth strokes along the gum line with a fluoride toothpaste. Finish this step by lightly brushing your tongue to remove plaque and to ensure fresher breath.
Careful flossing is the next healthy habit to include in your daily routine. Floss between upper and lower teeth to remove plaque and any food particles that may have been missed by brushing. After flossing, be sure to rinse well with water.
Now it’s time to select your favorite flavor of mouthwash but be careful to choose one that does not contain alcohol. This healthy habit is important for cleaning biofilm and bacteria that you missed from brushing and flossing. Rinsing is also a great tool for getting an overall clean feeling.
The last habit to add to your daily plan may be your favorite. Chewing sugar-free gum, especially after eating and drinking, has a positive effect on your oral health. Forget what you may have learned as a child and put your choppers to work with any flavor as long as it’s sugarless. Gum chewing for approximately 20 minutes produces saliva which in turn fights cavities, neutralizes plaque acids, protects the enamel to strengthen teeth and washes away any remaining food particles.
These four steps will take you a long way toward a healthy mouth, but let’s take it a step further and clear up a few other misconceptions to ensure tip-top hygiene for your mouth.
Older adults may still develop tooth or root decay due to gum recession. It is important to also clean the gums. You may initially see some bleeding from light brushing of the gums. This is a sign of infection and should stop once your gums are healthy again.
Another misconception I hear from some of my older patients is that the softening of teeth is normal. Your teeth should not become softer as you age. This tells me some sort of decay is happening, but the good news is treatments are available.
The final misconception that plagues many senior citizens is dry mouth. You may suffer from a chronic disease that is managed by medication. More than 400 medications are known to cause dry mouth. Treating this side effect can be as simple as drinking more water, rinsing more often and applying lip moisturizer.
I realize your oral health can easily be pushed aside by a busy lifestyle or other ailments. However, my hope for this month is that you make your oral health a top priority. A healthy mouth and smile are the first things people notice, and the rest of your body will appreciate this too.
Dr. Angela Canfield is licensed by the Georgia Board of Dentistry and the National Board of Dentistry. She owns and practices at two dental offices: Premier Dental Designs located in Rincon, GA, and Sandfly Family Dental in Savannah, GA. Contact Dr. Canfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-826-4037