Dentistry for older people
Am I certain to lose my teeth?
No. With the right home care and help from your dental team, it is possible to keep your teeth for life. Gum disease and tooth decay can be prevented whatever your age.
What problems may older people have?
Your gums may recede (shrink back) as you get older, and your teeth may become a little more sensitive as a result. Your dental team will be able to show you the best brushing methods to keep any gum problems under control, and may suggest a mouthwash to deal with the sensitivity.
You may find it more difficult to clean your teeth properly if you have problems with your hands or arms, or if your eyesight is poor. Your dental team can give you help and advice on the best aids to use. A magnifying mirror and a good light are often helpful.
If you have lost some teeth in the past, and have bridges or dentures, you may have particular cleaning needs and problems. Your dental team can help you with these.
Some people take regular medication which makes their mouth dry. Saliva helps to protect your teeth against decay, so if you have less saliva than usual ask your dental team for advice. Or you can buy special products, including artificial saliva, in most pharmacies without a prescription.
Should I expect to have problems with my gums?
Gum disease is caused by a build-up of bacteria called ‘plaque’. Plaque forms constantly on your teeth. It is important to remove this plaque to avoid gum inflammation (swelling and soreness). If the plaque is not removed, the gum disease will, in time, affect the bone under the gums. This bone supports the tooth roots, so your teeth may gradually become loose.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
As it is often painless, many people may not know that they have gum disease. Some common signs are:
- Gums that bleed when brushed.
- Loose teeth.
- Receding gums.
- Bad Breath
Not everyone has all these signs. You may have only one.
Can I still get tooth decay?
Yes. The same dental plaque that causes gum inflammation can cause decay, particularly if you have sugary foods and drinks often. There is a particular risk of decay at the gum edge when the gum has receded, as the ‘neck’ of the tooth is not protected by enamel (the hard coating that covers most of the tooth).
How can I prevent gum disease and tooth decay?
- Thoroughly remove plaque from your teeth (and dentures if you have them) last thing at night and at least one other time during the day.
- Use a fluoride toothpaste containing 1350 to 1500ppm (parts per million) of fluoride. There are many special toothpastes on the market, including tartar control and total care toothpastes. Your dentist may prescribe a higher-fluoride toothpaste if they think you need it.
- You should clean in between your teeth at least once a day using interdental brushes or dental floss.
- Cut down on how often you have food and drinks containing sugar – especially sweets that last longer in the mouth such as boiled sweets or mints.
- Visit your dental team regularly, as often as they recommend.
What do I need to clean my teeth properly?
You need a small-headed, soft- to medium-textured toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste. To help clean between your teeth you could use an ‘interdental brush’, floss or tape. If you have arthritis you may find it difficult to grip a toothbrush handle, but you can get handle adapters.
Electric or ‘power’ toothbrushes are also ideal for people with limited movement. The handles are thicker and easier to hold and the oscillating head does most of the work.
Power toothbrushes have been proven to remove more plaque than manual toothbrushes, so everyone can benefit from using them. There are many products available, and your dental team can help you decide which are best for you.
How do I know if I have removed all the plaque?
Plaque can be stained with a special dye painted on your teeth with a cotton bud, or with special ‘disclosing tablets’ from the dentist.
This stain is harmless and will show any areas of your mouth which need closer attention. Look particularly where the teeth and gums meet. A further brushing will remove the stained plaque.
What if I have missing teeth?
Dentures, bridges or implants replace lost or missing teeth so that you can enjoy a healthy diet and smile with confidence.
What causes mouth ulcers?
Mouth ulcers can be caused by broken teeth, poorly fitting dentures or sharp pieces of food. Once the cause is removed, ulcers should heal within 3 weeks. If you notice an ulcer which does not heal, see your dental team straight away. Many serious conditions, such as mouth cancer, can be better treated if diagnosed early at a routine check-up.