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Don't ignore dental care

Don't ignore dental care

Good oral health can help improve quality of life and combat various health conditions, so it’s important to take care of your teeth and gums as you age. We share some top tips for dental care.

Experts widely agree that a link exists between oral health and general health. As we get older, our oral health increasingly impacts our overall quality of life and ability to manage or prevent certain medical conditions. If poor dental hygiene is left unchecked, many health-related problems – ranging from inconvenient to serious and even life-threatening – might become harder to control.

Oral issues like tooth loss, root decay, uneven jawbone, darkened teeth and dry mouth (often a side effect of taking medications) can create an array of challenges for older people including pain, infections, forced dietary changes, discomfort when eating and talking, reduced self-esteem and social isolation. At the more extreme end of the scale, poor oral health can make you more susceptible to conditions like diabetes and aspiration pneumonia, while research has established a connection between gum disease and heart disease. 

This might all sound like an unfortunate reality of ageing, but growing long in the tooth shouldn’t mean accepting dental incapacities or worse. A proactive approach to dental care later in life helps protect teeth and gums for longer. In fact, good oral hygiene remains just as important as digestive or heart health – whether you’re newly retired or living it large in your 80s and beyond.

In other words, taking care of your teeth and gums is a lifelong responsibility to your own health and wellbeing. But are you still as committed to dental care as you used to be?

Seniors typically access the general health services they need on a regular basis. However, this diligence is known to drop when it comes to scheduling dentist visits. According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers data, just over half (51 per cent) of people aged 65 and over had seen a dental professional in the previous 12 months. Worryingly, this figure dipped below 50 per cent among the population of 75- to 79-year-olds, and continued to decrease for each consecutive five-year age bracket between 65-69 and 85+.

In between routine dental checks at least every six months, it’s crucial to keep practising good oral hygiene habits. Here are eight tips for maintaining and improving oral health no matter your age: 


Since plaque can build up quite rapidly, it’s essential to brush at least twice a day using a soft-bristle toothbrush (preferably an electric toothbrush) and toothpaste containing fluoride. You should also clean between your teeth at least once per day with dental floss or another interdental cleaner.


While not as essential as brushing and flossing, rinsing with an antiseptic fluoride mouthwash one or twice each day is another effective method for reducing decay.


Just like real teeth, full and partial dentures deserve a hygiene plan. Every day, clean your dentures with soap and water and take them out for at least four hours. Remember to remove your dentures at night.


One simple way to indirectly care for your teeth and gums is through a healthy, well-balanced diet including plenty of dairy and high-fibre foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and legumes.


Got a bit of a sweet tooth? It’s fine to enjoy the occasional piece of cake, but a high intake of sugary foods and soft drinks is terrible for your teeth.


There’s no substitute for drinking plenty of water. Tap water usually contains fluoride, which helps prevent decay in teeth of any age. 


If you need any further incentive to quit smoking, consider the fact cigarettes can also contribute to problems with gum disease and tooth decay/loss.


Even if you take great care of your teeth and gums, it’s imperative to schedule regular visits to your dentist or periodontist for full dental check-ups, professional cleaning and oral exams.