Frequently Asked Questions About Senior Dental Care

1. As a senior adult, do I really need to be concerned about cavities any more?

Actually, cavities can be more frequent in older adults for a number of reasons. They may not have been exposed in childhood to fluoride in community water supplies and toothpaste, and adults are likelier to have decay around older fillings.

In addition, cavities in the tooth root are more common as gum tissue begins to recede in older adults, exposing the tooth root surface to decay. Also, dry mouth, resulting from the natural aging process and certain medications and diseases, can lead to more tooth decay. Without an adequate amount of saliva, food particles can't be washed away and the acids produced by plaque can't be neutralized.

2. My teeth have suddenly become very sensitive to both hot and cold, but my mouth is otherwise healthy. What could cause this?

Receding gum tissue could be the cause of sensitivity. As gum tissue pulls back away from teeth, the root of the tooth becomes exposed. A soft tissue graft would be the recommended treatment. Other treatment suggestions might include using a fluoride mouth rinse or switching to a toothpaste made specifically for sensitive teeth.

Visit your dentist to so that you can be diagnosed and treated properly.

3. Can braces still be an option for the senior adult?

There is no age limit for correcting misaligned (crooked) teeth. The mechanical process used to move teeth is the same at any age. So the benefits of orthodontic treatments such as braces are available to both children and adults who wish to improve their appearance and bite. The main differences between treatments in adults and children is that certain corrections in adults may require more than braces alone and the treatments may take longer because adult bones are no longer growing.

4. Are seniors more at risk for oral cancer?

Yes, the risk of oral cancer increases with age. Any lesion found on the tongue or anywhere in the mouth needs to be examined and closely watched. Smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages is associated with oral cancer.

5. Is there anything that can be done to make my loose teeth more secure?

First, visit a periodontist (a dentist who specializes in diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases of the gums and the supporting bones of the teeth (both natural and man-made teeth). He or she will examine your condition, review your oral hygiene practices, and discuss your medical history. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, can contribute to the problem of loose teeth.

6. How does long-term smoking impact oral health?

For one, smoking increases your risk of oral cancer. Other oral health consequences include delayed healing following tooth extraction and periodontal treatment, increased bone loss within the jaw, bad breath, and tooth discoloration.

7. Can dentists treat the elderly with moderate dementia?

The ideal time to take care of all necessary dental treatments is soon after the person has been diagnosed with dementia. This way, only easier maintenance treatments will be all that is needed as the person ages. However, the elderly with moderate levels of dementia can be treated and can receive anesthesia. Setting a dental appointment early in the day, when the person with dementia is most alert, may be best. Also, the caregiver needs to communicate to the person with dementia that he or she is going to the dentist and state the reason for the visit.

8. If an older person has few or no dental problems or even no teeth, does he or she need to see the dentist?

Even if you do not have teeth or only have had a few dental problems, it is wise -- especially as you age -- to visit your dentist at least once a year for a comprehensive oral exam. At this visit your dentist can look for signs of oral cancer as well as for any other oral health or medical problems in the mouth, head, and neck areas.

My dentures don't feel as comfortable as they once did. What should I do?

Your gums and the bone supporting them changes shape as you age, so your dentures may begin to feel loose.

First, never try to change the shape of your dentures yourself in the hopes of making them fit better -- you could end up causing irreparable damage to the dentures.

Because dentures are made to fit perfectly, if you do feel a looseness, chances are your dentures will need to be adjusted to make them fit properly again as your mouth shape changes. See your dentist as soon as possible. In an emergency, use a denture adhesive to keep your dentures stable until your appointment.

Why do I find it difficult to chew and swallow certain foods?

You may be experiencing these difficulties simply because you have tooth decay, ill-fitting dentures, dry mouth, or another treatable condition. Maintaining proper nutrition is important not only for your oral health but for your overall health, too. Follow this advice:

Eat a variety of foods from the five food groups (milk and dairy, breads and cereals, meats and dried beans, fruits, and vegetables).
Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, fruits and vegetables.
Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
Choose a diet moderate in sugars.
Choose a diet moderate in salt.
If you drink alcoholic beverages, drink in moderation.
You may need a multivitamin or mineral supplement. Check with your doctor.

Caring for Dentures

Proper denture care is important for both the health of your dentures and mouth. Here are some tips.

Handle dentures with great care. To avoid accidentally dropping them, stand over a folded towel or a full sink of water when handling dentures.
Brush and rinse dentures daily. Like natural teeth, dentures must be brushed daily to remove food and plaque. Brushing also helps prevent the development of permanent stains on the dentures. Use a brush with soft bristles that is specifically designed for cleaning dentures. Avoid using a hard-bristled brush as it can damage or wear down dentures. Gently brush all surfaces of the denture and be careful not to damage the plastic or bend attachments. In between brushings, rinse dentures after every meal.
Clean with a denture cleaner. Hand soap or mild dishwashing liquid can be used for cleaning dentures. Household cleansers and many toothpastes may be too abrasive for dentures and should not be used. Also, avoid using bleach, as this may whiten the pink portion of the denture. Ultrasonic cleaners can be used to care for dentures. These cleaners are small bathtub-like devices that contain a cleaning solution. The denture is immersed in the tub and then sound waves create a wave motion that dislodges the undesirable deposits. Use of an ultrasonic cleaner, however, does not replace a thorough daily brushing. Products with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance are recommended since they have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness.
Denture care when not being worn. Dentures need to be kept moist when not being worn so they do not dry out or lose their shape. When not worn, dentures should be placed in a denture cleanser soaking solution or in water. However, if the denture has metal attachments, the attachments could tarnish if placed in a soaking solution. Your dentist can recommend the best methods for caring for your particular denture. Dentures should never be placed in hot water, as it can cause them to warp.