How you can help an older parent keep their teeth

| May 15, 2011

caring_for_older_parents_teethDo you have a parent or loved one that has not been taking care of their teeth?  There are several things you can do to help.  You are never too old to take care of your smile!  For some people eating is one of the pleasures of life.  It’s difficult to eat when your teeth are missing or they hurt.

The risk of tooth decay in the population over 65 is greater than the under 14 population.  The elderly are more prone to tooth decay for a variety of reasons.

  1. 75% of older adults take at least one prescription medication which can decrease saliva production and lead to dry mouth. (what is dry mouth?) Saliva can limit bacteria growth which is good because bacteria can cause tooth decay.
  2. With a Dry mouth older patients frequently can sip on sugary drinks or suck on hard candies to relieve dry mouth but expose their teeth to constant sugar which leads to tooth decay.
  3. Older adults have reduced visual acuity while brushing which reduces the effectiveness of their brushing because they can’t see what they are doing.
  4. Manual dexterity reduces as we age making it more difficult to  grip a toothbrush handle and brush properly.
  5. Arthritis in older adults can also reduce mobility when brushing teeth.
  6. Older adults typically have 1 or more missing teeth which they don’t replace with a dental implant.  The space can become a food trap.  Trapped food can lead to tooth decay.
  7. As people age teeth shift and tip and it’s harder to thoroughly remove plaque from the teeth
  8. When people retire they often lose dental insurance benefits so they stop going to the dentist on a regular basis allowing small tooth problems to turn into big painful and expensive tooth problems.

What can you do to help an older parent keep their teeth?

  1. Make sure your parents are still going to the dentist
  2. Get an electronic toothbrush for your elderly parents to use.  These toothbrushes are helpful because all the elderly person needs to do is hold the electronic toothbrush against the tooth surface.
  3. Ask the dentist about adult fluoride treatments that your parents can use at home.
  4. Understand your parents medications and whether or not they can cause dry mouth.
  5. If your parent has a dental bridge, make sure they know how to clean  under it
  6. Make sure your parent’s dentures are comfortable and fit correctly.  Even if they have dentures they should still see the dentist at least once per year.