Caring for your teeth as you get older

Specialist Periodontist at Bupa UK
18 June 2018

Health issues tend to mount as we age, and dental care might feel like the least of these worries. But taking care of your teeth can actually make a huge difference to your quality of life. Your oral health can change a lot of things that are probably important to you, from being able to eat what you want, to socialising with confidence.

Read on to find out what kinds of oral health problems can crop up as you grow older – and what you can do about them.

An older woman smiling

What happens to 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. They can become worn down, for example by grinding your teeth. They can also be eroded by acids in your food and drink.
  • Your gums can recede (shrink back). This 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.
  • You may have a drier mouth, due to medicines you may need to take or some health conditions associated with older age. This can affect your teeth, because saliva helps to strengthen your teeth and protect them against decay.

What can you do to look after your teeth?

The main things you can do, whether you have your own teeth or dentures, are to:

  • brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • visit your dentist and hygienist regularly (your dentist can tell you how often)
  • limit how much sugar you eat and drink – try some of our sugar swaps

My five top tips for protecting your smile

  1. Switching to an electric toothbrush can help if it’s hard moving 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 a couple of elastic bands around the handle, to make it bigger and easier to grip. Or you may prefer to invest in a toothbrush that’s been designed specifically for your needs.
  3. If you suffer from a 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. Take your dentist’s advice. They 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, such as mouthwashes or toothpastes with more fluoride, may be helpful for you. If you feel very worried about visiting the dentist, there are things that your dentist can do to help make this easier.
  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, so ask your doctor if sugar-free versions are available.

  6. 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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