Dental Health is a Vital Part of Aging

For many of us, the increasing silver in our hair is matched by gold (or other metals) in our teeth.  We have information on looking after them.

More of us are keeping  more of our teeth into later life, making good dental health an important part of aging well. Having healthy teeth and gums or correctly fitted dentures is important for overall health and a sense of well being.

Healthy teeth are essential for effective chewing and swallowing and therefore for good nutrition.  Our teeth are on show for others when we smile, and for many of us it’s important for confidence and self esteem to feel our teeth look acceptable.

Nowadays many more of us are able to keep our teeth in older age compared to previous generations.  Our attitudes are also changing so that we expect to keep as many of our natural teeth as possible.

As we get older the need for dental care treatment continues any may increase.  You may find that old fillings need to be re-done; and you literally become “long in the tooth” as gums recede more of the tooth root is exposed and is vulnerable to infection.

Dentures may need to be replaced as the shape of the mouth continues to change  throughout life.

Affordability of professional dental care is an issue for many people on fixed incomes, whether they have their own teeth or dentures.

Cost of Dental Care

Despite the importance of good dental health Government support to adults is limited to subsidies towards emergency dental treatment, and dentures for people with low incomes.

Some hospitals have dental departments that provide low cost services to medicaid/medicare outpatients and people with special needs.  Medicaid/Medicare will help pay for costs associated with accident-related dental treatment.  There is no general subsididised dental care for older people, unlike the United Kingdom where reduced cost dental care is provided under the National Health Service.

Discounts: We recommend asking your dentist about this – it may help reduce your cost.  Check for local dental clinics that will provide services on a sliding scale basis.


In a current research study in New Zealand, a  sample of people aged 65-87 were interviewed about maintaining their oral health.  The researchers found that people  put a lot of effort into deciding how to maintain their teeth in the face of competing priorities and high costs.

A range  of factors had to be weighed up to achieve a balance: cost versus quality of the dental service, preventative dental check-up visits for problems, and functionality versus appearance.  In many cases people had to establish what their bottom line was, and make their decision accordingly.

Assisted Living Centers

Studies have shown that older people in assisted living centers have particular dental care needs.  They may not be able to care for their own dental hygiene.  This may affect their ability to eat well and in turn affect their overall health.

Oral Health Care guides such as in The Hour Green News blog are easily found on the Internet and should be given to caregivers as training manuals. Caregivers in training go through a lengthy hands-on learning module of how to take care of the teeth of the  older adults in their care.

If you have a loved one in a Assisted Living, be very diligent in discussing oral care as part of the treatment plan.  Include the twice daily brushing of your loved ones teeth.  Make sure the staff takes out dentures at night and cleans them as prescribed. Check and see that your wishes have been followed through. Discuss concerns you may have with the manager and the staff members. Caregivers will establish rapport and will find a good way of getting the job accomplished without causing distress.


All the research we received for this article stressed the importance of taking a preventative approach to caring  for your teeth (or dentures) and mouth in older age.  In the light of affordability of dental services this seems to be particularly essential.

A daily routine will benefit your general health and may avoid the need  for costly treatment later.

Older adults need to regularly see their dentists for regular checkups, regardless of whether they still have natural teeth or wear full dentures.  Dentists examine the whole mouth, not just the teeth, for signs of oral problems; for those who wear dentures , the dentist can make sure the dentures fit properly.  Ill fitting dentures can be caused by natural changes in the gums, bones and tissues in  the mouth.

This can make eating difficult our painful , which can lead to poor nutrition.  Dentures that don’t fit properly can be an indication of gum or bone problems.

Dentures should be replaced every seven years, as recommended by the American Dental Association.

Another reason to see the dentist regularly is to avoid cavities, which can still  occur in older adults.  In fact, nine out of ten older adults who have their natural teeth suffer from cavities and 25% of these have not received treatment for these cavities.

More than 400 medications that older adults take for a variety of conditions can cause some side effects, like  dry mouth, or  adverse reactions with medications that  a dentist may prescribe.  It is important to talk to your dentist about your medical conditions and history as well as the medications you are on.

6 steps to keep your teeth and gums healthy

1.  Brush twice daily, especially once before bedtime.  Make sure that all the surfaces (outer, inner and chewing surface) of   teeth and gum are cleaned for effective plaque removal.

2. Use fluoride toothpaste and after brushing spit the toothpaste out.  Avoid rinsing the paste from your mouth after brushing as this will wash the flouride away from your teeth.

3.  Floss or use “inter-dental” brushes twice daily.  Once in the morning and once prior to going to bed at night.

4. Avoid eating sugary, sticky and acidic foods and drinks in between meals.

5.  Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods.

6.  Visit your dentist for regular check-ups.  Your dentist can spot and stop any problems with your teeth and gums at the early stages.




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