A quick course on mouth care from area Agency on Aging

By Karin Haugrud Land of the Dancing Sky Agency on Aging Fergus Falls Senior LinkAge Line® Specialist

A healthy smile is a bonus at any age. Too often older people—especially those who wear dentures—feel they no longer need dental checkups. If you haven’t learned the basics of oral health care, it is never too late to start. And even if you have, it’s a good time to review.

Good dental health is important for everyone. Dental problems are a leading cause of discomfort, and impaired quality of life. Oral health is a barometer for general health problems in the elderly. A healthy mouth plays an important role in how you speak, chew your food, and your overall body health. If your teeth are decaying and falling out most likely you will not be able to eat properly, speak clearly and may be embarrassed to socialize with others. For these reasons, it is important to perform daily dental care.

An important part of good oral health is knowing how to brush and floss correctly. Thorough brushing each day removes plaque. Gently brush the teeth on all sides with a soft-bristle brush, using fluoride toothpaste. Circular and short back and forth strokes work best. In addition to brushing, using dental floss is necessary to keep the gums healthy. Proper flossing is important because it removes plaque and leftover food that a toothbrush cannot reach.

If you wear dentures, keep them clean and free from food that can may cause stains, bad breath, and gum irritation. Once a day, brush all surfaces of the dentures with a denture-care product. Remove your dentures from your mouth and place them in water or a denture-cleansing liquid while you sleep. Each morning before dentures are placed in the patient’s mouth, it is important that gums, tongue and roof of mouth be brushed with toothpaste to remove plaque, stimulate gums and freshen breath.

Partial dentures should be cared for in the same way as full dentures. It is important even for a full denture wearer to visit the dentist on a regular basis to get an evaluation of the palate, tongue and surrounding tissue for any problems. Sore spots should not be ignored. See the dentist if you think adjustments are needed.

While people commonly associate cavities with children, tooth decay can occur at any age. Bacteria stick to the teeth and form a sticky, colorless film called plaque. In children, cavities affect the crown of the tooth. In older adults, decay occurs more often at the root surface. Root cavities tend to grow quickly in older adults with receded gum lines, a condition that occurs with advancing age. Regular brushing and flossing can protect against tooth decay.

For denture-wearers, the buildup of plaque can irritate the tissues under the dentures. It is important to clean your dentures thoroughly every day. Also see a dentist at least once a year to be sure dentures fit properly and that gum tissues are disease free.

Good oral hygiene and regular dental care are important throughout your life, whatever your age.

This article is made possible with Older Americans Act dollars from the Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging. Call the Senior LinkAge® at 800-333-2433 to speak with an information specialist, or check out our website at MinnesotaHelp.info. The site includes more than 12,000 agencies and 44,000 services across the state of Minnesota.