When you imagine your golden years, do you think about the health of your mouth as an aspect of a happier and healthier life? You should. These days, we’re living longer and that means more years with (or without) your pearly whites. When I talk to my patients about their dental health, they’re often focused on a recent toothache or getting their smile a couple of shades brighter – concerns of the here and now. I always like to remind them that your mouth isn’t a teenager anymore, and you need to take care of your mouth as it holds the key to better dental and general health.
Too late you say? As a wise Chinese saying goes, the best time to start was yesterday. The second best time to start is now. Here are the key health points I discuss with my older patients. Like any good relationship, the more you give the more you get.
Be gentle but consistent with your dental care.
- Brush twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush; you may find an electric toothbrush helpful. Continue to use proper technique (angling your brush at a 45-degree angle with bristles in contact with both your teeth and the gumline; gently brush in an up and down as well as a back and forth motion). Gently.
- Floss daily between your teeth, you may want to consider a water flosser to make the job easier. Don’t use your teeth as leverage. Run the floss through several times.
- If you have full or partial dentures, clean them daily - just like your natural teeth. You should take them out for at least four hours every day, preferably at night.
- Drink fluoridated tap water regularly. The fluoride helps prevent tooth decay at every age and staying hydrated is important to your overall health.
Treat your dentures with as much care as the teeth you’re born with.
- Is your toothbrush too harsh? Try running it under warm water to soften the bristles before brushing or try using your finger wrapped in a clean, damp cloth.
- Don’t neglect your gums. You can get gum disease around any remaining natural teeth; false teeth or dentures will not fit properly if your gums are swollen, sore or bleed and will not be held firmly in place.
- Soak your dentures overnight in special denture cleanser, in warm water, in a 50/50 mix of warm water and vinegar, or in Nicorinse as people report doing. Soaking them in one of these liquids will help loosen plaque, disinfect, and make brushing them easier.
Show your implants love, too.
- Implants can be treated more similarly to a natural tooth but it’s more fragile - brush and floss thoroughly, getting at all sides of the implant, but with very gentle motions. Ensure that you floss daily but be careful at the spots where your implant meets your gumline. Thorough but gentle is key.
- Commit to regular dental visits. You might think your teeth are stationary once you’re an adult but they actually continue to shift throughout your life. When my patients with implants or false teeth are in my chair, one of the things I’m checking is what small adjustments need to be made to ensure an ongoing, quality fit.
If you’re providing support to a parent or spouse who requires assistance with their dental care, talk to your dentist or hygienist about tips and approaches you can take. We can help you learn the best ways to provide dental care and refer to you to dentists who specialize in treating elderly or disabled patients; don’t be afraid to ask; it can be a challenging area of care to take on. If you’re looking for a primer on dental care for caregivers, the Canadian Dental Association has an excellent resource.
A committed routine is all it takes for most people to improve their oral health. What you do today, this morning, or tonight, will set the stage for how well your teeth are doing next year or 10 or 20 years from now. Take care of your teeth daily and enjoy the benefits of a healthier and happier mouth your entire life.