Dental care for older people is much the same as for younger adults.
But older adults do have concerns that younger adults do not. These may include:
Caring for dentures.
Having trouble holding a toothbrush.
Having gum disease.
Having tooth decay on the roots of teeth.
Replacing missing teeth and
Caregivers can help remind the people they are caring for to brush and floss their teeth or to clean their dentures. In some cases, caregivers may need to do the brushing and other care. People who have trouble using their hands or who have dementia may need this extra help.
Dentures are "false teeth." They can replace all the teeth in your
mouth (complete denture) or only some of them (partial denture). If you need
dentures, your dentist will measure your mouth and take impressions to create
You should care for your dentures as you would your teeth. It's
also important to care for your gums. You or your caregiver should brush your gums, tongue, and
the roof of your mouth every day with a soft-bristled brush before you
put in your dentures. See your dentist on a regular basis.
To care for dentures:
Stand over a
folded towel or bowl of water when you or your caregiver takes the dentures out. This way if you drop them, they will not
Store dentures in lukewarm water or denture-cleaning liquid
overnight. Do not put them in hot water, and do not let them dry
Replace dentures about every 5 years. Using dentures
daily "wears them out," and you will need to replace them.
dentures every day. Cleaning helps prevent stains and helps the mouth stay healthy.
Rinse the dentures to remove any loose food.
Wet the brush, and brush the dentures with a denture cleanser
such as Polident or Efferdent. Do not brush with toothpaste. It can scratch the dentures. You or your caregiver may be able to use hand soap or mild
dishwashing liquid. Do not use household cleansers or
Brush every surface gently to avoid damage. Use
a brush designed for cleaning dentures or a toothbrush with soft bristles.
Remember to take out the dentures at night. This lowers the risk of choking if the dentures become loose.
To care for teeth and gums:
Look at the gums daily before you put in the
dentures. Let red, swollen gums heal before putting in the dentures again. If
the redness does not go away in a few days, call the dentist. White patches on
the inside of the cheeks could also mean the
dentures aren't fitting well.
Leave the dentures out at least 6 hours every day. The mouth heals more slowly with age and needs time to
recover from the friction of wearing dentures.
Don't put up with
dentures that are too big, that click when you eat, or that don't feel good. It takes
time to get used to dentures. But if they are still giving you trouble after
the first few weeks, talk to your dentist about fitting them again. Don't try
to "fix" your dentures yourself.
Using a toothbrush
Older adults with
arthritis sometimes have trouble brushing their teeth
because they can't easily hold the toothbrush. Their hands and fingers may be
stiff, painful, or weak. If this is the case:
Use an electric
Enlarge the handle of a non-electric toothbrush by
wrapping a sponge, an elastic bandage, or adhesive tape around
Push the toothbrush handle through a ball made of rubber or
Make the handle longer and thicker by taping Popsicle
sticks or tongue depressors to it.
You may also be able to buy specially designed toothbrushes,
toothpaste dispensers, and floss holders.
Your doctor may recommend a soft-bristle toothbrush if you or the person you care for bleeds easily. Bleeding can happen because of a health problem or from certain medicines.
A toothpaste for sensitive teeth may help if you or the person you care for has sensitive teeth.
Normal dental care
To keep the teeth and gums healthy:
Brush the teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day—in the
morning and at night—and floss at least once a day. Plaque can quickly build up
on the teeth of older adults.
Watch for the signs of gum disease.
These signs include gums that bleed after brushing or after eating hard
foods, such as apples.
See a dentist regularly. Many experts
recommend checkups every 6 months.
Keep the dentist up to date on
any new medicines you are taking.
Eat a balanced diet that includes
whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and that is low in saturated fat and sodium.
Good nutrition is vital to maintaining healthy gums and avoiding tooth decay.
Avoid using tobacco products. They can affect dental and general health.
Many older adults have a fixed income and feel that they can't
afford dental care. But most towns and cities have programs in which dentists
help older adults by reducing fees. Contact your area's public health offices
or social services for information about dental care in your community.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.