It wasn’t so long ago that anyone over 50 would be pretty much guaranteed not to have any teeth of their own left. Indeed, if we think back to our grandparents’ era, it seems that most older people had dentures.
Nowadays there is an increasing number of Australians reaching old age with most of their teeth. However, while this change seems positive, according to Dr Lesley Russell of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy of the University of Sydney, it does present a whole new set of issues.
“It has, ironically, made the oral health of the most vulnerable older people – especially those who live in residential care – even worse,” she says.
“Dental decay is surprisingly active in older people; the importance of being able to engage in the activities of everyday living is highlighted by the fact that dental decay among older people in nursing homes is more than twice that of people of the same age living in the community. And the rate is twice as high again for people with dementia.”
Poor oral health can lead to under-nutrition, Dr Russell says, creating a vicious cycle, which “can lead to preventable illness and premature death”.
Looking to improve the health of your mouth and teeth? Here are some simple measures everyone can take, courtesy of the NSW Department of Health.
1. Eat well
Tooth decay is related more to the frequency of sugar intake, than the total amount of sugar eaten.
- Reduce the frequency of eating sticky and sugary foods – limit biscuits, cakes, sweets and other sugary foods.
- Eat a variety of nutritious snacks daily, such aws fruit, nuts and yoghurt. Care should be taken by people with dentures if eating nuts.
- Eat from each food group (vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat, cereals/grains) to support oral and general health.
- Eat fresh, crunchy foods like apples, celery and carrots. Slicing these foods can make for easier eating.
- Eat meals or snacks containing milk or cheese to help reduce acid that causes tooth decay.
Drinking water with fluoride is one of the easiest ways to help prevent cavities
2. Drink well
Fluoride in tap water helps to strengthen teeth and reduce acid that initiates tooth decay. Sugar is the source of bacterial energy causing tooth decay.
- Drink tap water daily – in most places in NSW tap water contains fluoride.
- Drink water after meals and snacks, and after taking medications (especially if they have been crushed and mixed with a sweetener).
- Keep the mouth moist by frequently rinsing or sipping with water.
- Avoid sugar in tea and coffee and reduce the intake of caffeine drinks.
- Limit the intake of acidic and sugary drinks (like fruit juice, soft drink and cordial).
3. Clean well
Poor oral hygiene allows the bacteria in dental plaque to produce acids and other substances that damage teeth, gums and surrounding bone. The daily removal of dental plaque and maintenance of sound dental health practices are the key aspects to preventing oral diseases. Tooth brushing with a fluoride toothpaste is the most effective and economical method of physically removing dental plaque from gums, tongue, teeth and/or dentures. Fluoride protects natural teeth by remineralising and strengthening tooth enamel.
- Brush morning and night, using a soft toothbrush on gums, tongue and teeth.
- Use a pea-size amount of standard fluoride toothpaste.
- Spit out residue toothpaste but do not rinse the mouth after brushing. This allows the fluoride to pass effectively into the teeth.
- Replace a toothbrush:
(i) when the bristles become shaggy;
(ii) every three months; and
(iii) following an acute infection, such as thrush.
This helps to prevent harm to the mouth.
- Use dental floss and interdental brushes (with care) to remove debris from between teeth.
People who wear dentures are at risk of developing fungal infections. Fungal infections can be associated with: wearing dentures at night; poor cleanliness of dentures; denture plaque; deterioration to the denture resin; diet; and preexisting general health factors, such as diabetes. Further, a scratched denture can be a source of irritation and increase the risk of oral infections.
- Clean dentures daily with a denture brush and liquid soap to remove plaque from all surfaces, then rinse well under running water.
- Do not use toothpaste as it is abrasive and can damage the denture surface.
- Hold the dentures carefully while brushing, and clean them in a bowl of water placed in a sink to protect from breakage if dropped.
- Brush gums and tongue with a standard toothbrush to remove plaque in the mouth.
- Remove dentures overnight and store in cold water. This allows gum tissue to rest.
Cleaning your teeth daily is important to prevent the build up of plaque which can cause tooth decay and gum disease
4. Play well
As with maintaining general health, exercise is important. Exercises for stronger cheek and tongue muscles and a healthy saliva flow help to maintain a moist mouth.
- Put air in the cheek and slide the mouth from side to side to exercise facial muscles.
- Run the tongue around the inside of the cheek to exercise the tongue muscles.
- Massage the sides of the face using a circular motion to improve saliva flow.
- Exercise facial and lip muscles by “oo” and “ee” movements of the lips.
- Mouth rinses and tongue cleaning may help keep your breath fresh.
5. Stay well
- Visit a dental professional regularly, even if you wear dentures.
- Protect the body from the sun with sunscreen, lip block, a hat, clothing, sunglasses.
- Use sugarless medicines, where possible.
- Use walking frames and do balancing exercises to reduce falls.
- Limit alcohol and don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
How often do you see the dentist? Share your story below.