Caring for your teeth as you get older

Specialist Periodontist at Bupa UK
19 April 2016
An older woman smiling

You may have enough health niggles going on as you get older that your teeth and dental care isn’t at the forefront of your mind. But taking care of your oral health can have a huge effect on your quality of life – from being able to eat what you want, to being able to socialise with confidence.

There are a number of things that can affect the appearance and health of your teeth as you get older.

  • Your teeth can become darker in colour. This can be due to loss of surface enamel, but can also be down to a gradual build-up of staining from food and drink. If you smoke, nicotine will also stain your teeth.
  • The surfaces of your teeth may gradually become damaged. Your teeth can become worn down, for example by grinding your teeth. Your teeth surfaces can also be eroded by acids in your food and drink.
  • Your gums can recede (shrink back), which can put you at greater risk of tooth decay near the roots of your teeth.
  • Gum disease can lead to loss of the bone around your teeth. This can make your teeth painful and loose, and they may eventually fall out.
  • Other health problems can make it harder to clean your teeth properly. For instance, you may find it hard to do tasks using your hands, have problems with your eyesight, or find it difficult to remember to clean your teeth.
  • Certain medications you may need to take can cause dry mouth. There are also a number of conditions associated with older age that can cause dry mouth. As well as making it easier to eat, saliva is important in helping to strengthen your teeth and protect them against decay. So a dry mouth can have a knock-on effect on your teeth.

Top tips for good dental hygiene

Good dental hygiene is important to help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. It involves brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, visiting the dentist and hygienist regularly and limiting the amount of sugar in your diet. Remember, if you have dentures, it’s just as important to clean and look after them as well as if they were your own teeth.

Here are our top five tips to help you maintain a good dental care routine as you get older.  

  1. Try switching to an electric toothbrush if you’re having difficulties with movement in your arm or hand. You may find it easier to hold, and the toothbrush will do a lot of the work for you.
  2. If you have arthritis, you could adapt the handle of your toothbrush yourself, to help improve your grip. For example, try wrapping an elastic band around the handle. Or you may prefer to invest in a toothbrush that’s been designed specifically for your needs.
  3. If you suffer from dry mouth, ask your doctor or pharmacist about saliva sprays and rinses. There are various types that are available on prescription or over the counter. Make sure you’re regularly drinking water throughout the day too.
  4. Visit your dentist regularly (your dentist will tell you how often). Your dentist can help with showing you the best techniques for brushing your teeth if you have problems such as receding gums. They can also advise if any particular products or aids, such as mouthwashes or toothpastes with higher concentrations of fluoride may be helpful for you.
  5. Be aware of ‘hidden sugars’ in your diet and cut down or replace these where possible. For instance, you may not realise that mints can be high in sugar, and sucking them for a long time can really increase your risk of tooth decay. Swap these for sugar-free mints or gum. Some medications may also contain sugar; ask your doctor if sugar-free versions are available.
Caring for your teeth is an important part of looking after your overall health. Discover more about our range of dentistry services.

Dr Rosalind O'Leary
Specialist Periodontist at Bupa UK

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