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Oral Health for Older Adults: Quick tips

You can prevent mouth problems like toothaches, cavities, and tooth loss by taking care of your teeth and gums. Having a healthy mouth also makes it easier for you to eat well and enjoy food.

Oral health is important for people of all ages. Taking care of your teeth and gums is especially important if you have a health condition like diabetes or heart disease – or if you are taking medicines that can cause oral health problems.

Follow the steps below to keep your teeth and gums healthy as you get older.

Brush and floss your teeth every day.

Brushing and flossing helps remove dental plaque, a sticky film of bacteria (germs). If plaque builds up, it can cause cavities (tooth decay) or gum disease.

  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Brush after breakfast and before bed.
  • Floss between your teeth every day. If flossing is hard for you, ask a dentist about using a special brush or pick instead.

Watch for changes in your mouth.

Your risk of getting oral cancer increases as you get older. If you see any changes in your mouth, it’s important to get them checked out.

See a doctor or dentist if you have any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks:

  • A spot in your mouth, lip, or throat that feels uncomfortable or sore
  • A new lump or thick area in your mouth, lip, or throat
  • A white or red patch in your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving your jaw or tongue
  • Numbness or swelling in your mouth
  • Pain in one ear without hearing loss

See the dentist regularly for a checkup and professional cleaning.

  • There’s no single rule for how often people need to see the dentist – it varies from person to person. The next time you get a checkup and cleaning, ask your dentist how often you need to come in.
  • Keep in mind that Medicare doesn’t pay for routine dental care. You may want to get private dental insurance.
  • For help finding low-cost dental care, visit http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/PopularPublications/FindingLowCostDentalCare.

Talk to your doctor about dry mouth.

Dry mouth means not having enough saliva (spit) to keep your mouth wet. Dry mouth can make it hard to eat, swallow, or talk. It can also lead to cavities (tooth decay) or infection.

If you have dry mouth, you don’t have to live with it. Talk with your doctor or dentist and ask what you can do.

Practice healthy habits.

  • Eat healthy and cut down on sugary foods and drinks. This can help prevent cavities – and it’s good for your overall health.
  • Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or using snuff puts you at higher risk for oral cancer. Smoking also increases your risk for gum disease.
  • If you smoke, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free help to quit.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. This means no more than 1 drink a day for women or 2 drinks a day for men. Heavy drinking increases your risk of oral cancer.
Oral Health for Older Adults: Quick tips

Content last updated on:
September 22, 2014