By Patti Urban | Your Savvy Assistant

We all know how important maintaining good dental hygiene is for seniors. Here are some tips to keep seniors healthy.

Maintaining Oral Health in Senior Years

Teeth can last a lifetime with proper care at home and with regular dental checkups. Seniors have oral hygiene issues resulting from the natural aging process, inability to receive proper oral health care due to financial constraints (no dental insurance) and inability to provide dental care for themselves.

Early stages of gum disease are reversible if treated early. Regular dental checkups can insure early detection and treatment of gum disease. To prevent gum disease from developing, it is important for seniors to practice proper oral hygiene.

Tips for Good Brushing Habits

1) Use a toothbrush with soft bristles that fits the mouth size. A big brush won’t get to the back teeth and a small one will make brushing time longer.
2) Use toothpaste with fluoride. Use toothpaste that covers the length of the bristles.
3) Make sure to brush at least two times a day – in the morning and before going to bed. Brush after every meal if possible, or rinse out the mouth, especially after eating sugary foods.
4) Brush for at least two minutes.
5) Replace toothbrush every three months or when the bristles get bent.

Dental Hygiene Tips for Seniors

1) Brush, floss and rinse with mouthwash properly as instructed by the dentist. Ask dentist about special toothbrushes to clean hard-to-reach areas of the mouth.
2) Know the warning signs that indicate the mouth, teeth or gums may be at risk, including tooth sensitivity, teeth grinding, pain, mouth sores, swelling, loose teeth, difficulty swallowing or chewing.
3) Visit the dentist as often as recommended for regular dental hygiene checkups.
4) Tell the dentist about any medications being taken or changes to medications.

Tips for Seniors when Brushing

1) Gently brush teeth back and forth, with short strokes.
2) Brush gently near the gum line in circular motions.
3) Bristles should slide in the place where the gum and tooth meet and where food particles can’t be seen.
4) Brush all sides of the teeth: the outside, the chewing side, and the inside.
5) Use the top bristles to clean the inside of the front teeth with short up-and-down strokes.
6) Brush the tongue gently to get rid of germs that cause bad breath.

Dental Hygiene Tips for Caregivers

1) Remember, many seniors are sensitive to having their mouth touched.
2) Move slowly and explain what the procedure will be.
3) When brushing or flossing, talk in a soft, soothing, and friendly voice to put the senior at ease.
4) Ask to look inside the seniors’ mouth, and check for swelling, red or white patches and sores. If any problems are noticed, contact the dentist.
5) Have the senior sit in front of the sink if possible, and stand behind them. This procedure makes the same motions as if they were brushing their own teeth.
6) Use a soft toothbrush when brushing a senior’s teeth.

Providing Denture Care

Proper denture care is important for both the health of a senior’s dentures and mouth.

Here are some tips:

1) Handle dentures with great care. To avoid accidentally dropping them, stand over a folded towel or a sink full of water when handling dentures.
2) Brush and rinse the dentures daily. Like natural teeth, dentures must be brushed daily to remove food and plaque. Brushing also helps prevent the development of permanent stains on the dentures.  Use a brush with soft bristles that is specifically designed for cleaning dentures.  Avoid using a hard-bristled brush; it can damage dentures.  Gently brush all surfaces of the denture and be careful not to damage the plastic or bend attachments. In between brushings, rinse the dentures after every meal.
3) Clean with a denture cleanser. Denture cleansers can be purchased at the grocery store or drug store. If unavailable, use hand soap or mild dishwashing liquid for cleaning dentures. Household cleansers and many types of toothpaste may be too abrasive for the dentures and should not be used. Also, avoid using bleach, as this may whiten the pink portion of the denture.
4) Ultrasonic cleaners can be used to care for dentures. These cleaners are small bathtub-like devices that contain a cleaning solution. The denture is immersed in the tub and then sound waves create a wave motion that dislodges the undesirable deposits.  Use of an ultrasonic cleaner, however, does not replace a thorough daily brushing. Products with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance are recommended since they have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness.
5) Denture care when not being worn. Dentures need to be kept moist when not being worn so they do not dry out or lose their shape. When not worn, dentures should be placed in a denture cleanser soaking solution or in water. However, if the denture has metal attachments, the attachments could tarnish if placed in a soaking solution. If attachments do become tarnished, notify the dentist for the proper method of cleaning. Dentures should never be placed in hot water, as it can cause them to warp.

Good dental hygiene is vital for everyone because a healthy mouth is important for speaking, chewing, and overall health. It is essential that senior’s receive good dental health care on a daily basis, and for caregivers to learn what techniques will provide the best dental care.

Patti Urban is a Business Support Specialist and Owner of Your Savvy Assistant.  She can be reached at http://www.yoursavvyassistant.com

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