Dental Hygiene for Seniors

Jory Cross by Jory Cross | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), water fluoridation and fluoride in toothpaste have recently led to people keeping their natural teeth over their entire lifetime. However, as you get older, you may have to take extra care to keep your teeth in ideal condition.

As people age, they may have trouble with saliva production, which could create an increase in gum disease and tooth decay, according to the CDC. Aging may also result in receding gums that expose teeth to decay-causing bacteria. Thirdly, aging may cause difficulties with flossing and brushing due to poor eyesight, chronic disease, or physical limitations. The CDC also says that other factors influencing seniors, such as being homebound, disabled, or institutionalized in a nursing home, increase the risk of poor oral health.

How poor dental hygiene can affect older adults

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults sometimes face certain oral health problems including the following:

  • 20% of adults age 65 or older have untreated tooth decay. Tooth decay is caused by the breakdown of tooth enamel and is largely preventable.
  • 68% of adults age 65 or older have gum disease. Gum disease is the infection and inflammation of the gums and bone that surround the teeth. Untreated gum disease can lead to teeth loss.
  • 20% of adults age 65 or older have lost all their teeth (missing teeth and dentures can affect nutrition).
  • The median age of oral and pharyngeal cancers is 62. Cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoking can contribute to oral cancers.
  • Medications that cause dry mouth can increase the risk of cavities, if not enough saliva is produced to keep the mouth healthy.

Maintaining dental hygiene for adults over age 65

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are ways to maintain dental hygiene and keep your mouth and teeth healthy as you age.

  • Drink fluoridated water. (You may already be drinking fluoridated water. According to the CDC, more than 200 million Americans had access to fluoridated drink water systems in 2014).
  • Use fluoride toothpaste (check your toothpaste tube; it may contain fluoride).
  • Don’t forget to floss after brushing thoroughly (if you are unable to brush or floss by yourself, ask a caregiver to assist you).
  • Visit your dentist regularly, even if you have dentures and no natural teeth.
  • Don’t smoke, and drink alcohol sparingly.
  • If your medication causes dry mouth, drink plenty of water and chew sugarless gum.
  • If you have diabetes, ask your doctor about how to manage the disease. Well-managed diabetes could decrease the risk for complications such as gum disease.

Dental care insurance coverage

As mentioned above, in order to maintain good dental hygiene, you will need to visit your dentist regularly. Having dental care insurance coverage may help. If you’re retired, you might have lost your employer’s dental benefits, and Original Medicare (Part A and Part) generally doesn’t cover routine dental work. However, a Medicare Advantage plan, offered by a private insurance company, is another way to receive your Part A and Part B benefits (besides hospice care, which Part A covers) and may cover routine dental care as well. Note that not every Medicare Advantage plan covers routine dental care. Dental services that may be covered by a Medicare Advantage plan include:

  • Denture reline
  • Complete set of dentures
  • Comprehensive oral evaluation
  • Bitewing X-rays
  • Surgical and non-surgical extractions
  • Amalgam and/or composite fillings
  • Anesthesia with covered services

Keep in mind that plans vary as to what they cover and not all plans may be available in your area. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan you must continue to pay your Part B premium.

If you still have questions about proper dental hygiene for seniors, I am happy to help you find answers. If you prefer, you can schedule a phone call or request an email by clicking on the buttons below. You can also find out about plan options in your area by clicking the Compare Plans button.

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