Dental care for seniors is an important component to maintaining your health as you age. Oral health can actually be a window into the overall health of various systems in your body, so healthy teeth are vital to aging well. When teeth start to decay, seniors have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart) and even oral cancer.
When you make the effort to care for your teeth--like regular brushing and flossing--you can keep harmful bacteria at bay. For those seniors who have trouble maintaining their oral hygiene, they are at risk of developing oral infections, tooth decay and gum disease. Your saliva also plays a main role in protecting the mouth from harmful bacteria. Certain medications, like antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, antidepressants and painkillers, all have potential side effects that reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth. If you regularly take any of those medications, it is recommended that you take extra steps to maintain healthy teeth.
Dental Care For Seniors
Whether you still have your natural teeth, or you wear dentures, proper dental care for seniors remains a top priority.
If you have natural teeth, the American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride-enhanced toothpaste. The ideal amount of time to spend brushing your teeth in one sitting is two minutes. They also recommend replacing your toothbrush every three to four months, or as soon as the bristles begin to fray.
If you wear dentures, maintaining healthy teeth also means cleaning them regularly. Both partial and full dentures are recommended to be removed once a day for cleaning. According to Colgate’s Oral Care Center, the proper way to clean dentures is to remove them and rinse them in cool, fresh water and then use a soft-bristled brush and a special denture cleansing solution to “remove plaque and food deposits.” In addition, people who wear dentures should also “consider a denture cleansing solution that can clean the denture overnight,” to help maintain their shape. They also recommend that “full and partial denture wearers should also continue to brush their gums, the remaining teeth and the tongue.”
Affordable Dental Care Options
In addition to maintaining a regular dental care routine at home, regular visits to the dentist can ensure that your pearly whites--and your overall health--remain in the best shape possible, for as long as possible. A big deterrent for seniors, however, is a lack of affordable dental care options.
It has been estimated that a meager 2 percent of retirees have access to affordable dental coverage through a former employee and Medicare does not currently provide coverage for routine dental care for seniors. Luckily, there are the following affordable dental care options available for seniors:
- Oral Health America is a nonprofit organization that aims to “combat some of the barriers that aging Americans face with regards to receiving the oral care they need.” In addition to providing educational services to seniors and their caregivers, Oral Health America also has a comprehensive list of resources for seniors to access affordable dental care options across the country.
- Local dental schools or dental hygiene schools often provide low-cost care for people in need. They often host clinics to give students some hands-on experience, which can keep the dental care more affordable than a private practice. The American Dental Association provides a list of local dental programs on their website.
- By purchasing a dental savings plan, seniors can access quality dental care at discounted rates. There is a yearly “membership fee” with most dental savings plans but the plan grants you access to a network of dentists who offer discounted rates which can save you between 30 and 60 percent of the full amount of service.
- While Medicare doesn’t directly cover the cost of dental care for seniors, PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) is a Medicare and Medicaid eligible program in certain states to help seniors with various health expenses. In addition to living in a state where PACE is offered, you also must be 55+, need a nursing home level of care and “be able to live safely in the community with help from PACE” in order to qualify.
Healthy Teeth, Healthy Life
Clean, healthy teeth are an important aspect to preventing a variety of health problems. Being proactive about your oral health can prevent you from taking potentially drastic measures down the road. Similarly, being proactive about purchasing a medical alert system can also help to keep you safe and healthy as you age. It might seem like a lot of work to maintain your health, but it’s worth it!