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Taking Charge of Oral Health: 3 Ways to Prevent Dental Disease as We Age

Many people—both patients and healthcare professionals alike—believe that toothaches, painful bleeding gums, and tooth loss are as inevitable as gray hair, wrinkles, and fragile skin. The truth is—dental diseases are not a normal part of aging. They are actually very preventable, and an important part of healthy aging. Here are three tips to help you maintain great oral health as you age.

1. Adopt the right oral techniques

Is an electric toothbrush better than a manual toothbrush? Are there flossing aids available to make the process a little easier? Can handles of tooth brushes and floss aides be adapted for people with arthritis that make them easier to hold? The answer to all of these is YES!

Additionally, many different mouth rinses and toothpastes are available to stop decay and kill the bacteria that can cause gum disease and bad breath. There are also products that are specifically formulated for dry mouth and painful ulcers. Schedule time to talk to your dentist, primary doctor, or physical therapist about these brushing and flossing techniques, as well as preventative products that might be right for you.

2. Make sure you’re producing enough saliva!

Many medications and illnesses can limit saliva production, but saliva actually has magical properties that protect us from disorders, like severe and rapid tooth decay, yeast infections, and gum disease. More than 400 of the most commonly prescribed drugs for older adults promote dry mouth and taste disturbances. If you are currently taking any medications, and have noticed these symptoms, talk with your doctor to see if there are other medication options you could try.

3. Stay away from acid-producing foods

Your odds of having dental disease isn’t just how well you brush, or the medications you take, but it’s also what you eat and how often you indulge. Germs love to feed on sticky sugary foods, which produce acid that promotes tooth and gum decay—and that means cavities. For every exposure to sugar, bacteria produce acids that burn your teeth and gums for twenty minutes.

Remember that oral problems are not inevitable as we age. These are three easy ways you can take charge of your oral health to age well. But it’s still important to see your dentist for routine checkups and cleanings. Learn about the dental care services your Medicare plan will and will not cover, as well as where to find help paying for dental services.

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About Leonard Brennan

Leonard Brennan, DMD has practiced general dentistry in Portland, ME for more than 30 years. He is the Co-Director of Harvard University's Dental Geriatric Fellowship Program, and a clinical instructor in their Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology. Currently, he is a member of the National Eldercare Council, which advises the American Dental Association and other organizations on oral care for the aging population in the United States.

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