Dental health for older folks

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Seniors often face challenges to maintaining healthy smiles

By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times

UTStephCollogoWhen people age it sometimes becomes very difficult to do the things we once could. While for some it may mean a struggle to put on shoes for others it may be challenges with memory or other physical limitations.

Dental care is often overlooked in our aging population. If you are caring for a parent or loved one who needs some assistance here are a few tips to help keep them healthy and comfortable.

Many seniors lose dexterity. Their hands just don’t work like they used to. This can make flossing very difficult and even holding a toothbrush a challenge.   Start with moving to a battery powered brush. Let it do more of the work, in addition the handle is larger and much easier to hold. Be sure to use it for the full two minutes. If holding the brush is still a challenge most toothbrushes can be modified to adapt to the individuals needs. In some cases a bicycle handgrip can be adapted to hold a toothbrush. I have even seen a simple tennis ball used as a way to make a brush easier to pick up. If dispensing toothpaste is a challenge, look for some of the new motion-activated toothpaste dispensers.

ToothbrushAdaption8There are some important things to know about dental health for seniors

It is important to have regular dental visits. Many older adults are taking medications that dry out their mouth. Dry mouth can accelerate dental decay and make it harder to remove food and plaque from teeth. Older adults sometimes have teeth that are less sensitive than younger individuals. Regular dental visits evaluate the tissues under dentures or other prosthetics, can check for decay and help combat the effects of dry mouth and acid erosion.

ToothbrushAdaption7Untreated dental disease can have a negative impact on heart health, artificial joints and heart valves, can make diabetes very difficult to control and can make a patient at risk for pneumonias. Caregivers should not overlook oral health it makes a huge difference in the quality of life for many seniors.

Tips for Caregivers

  1. Clean teeth and mouth twice daily
  2. Clean dentures and other removable appliances daily
  3. If dry mouth is a concern make sure that extra care is taken to remove all food particles.
  4. Ask the dentist if additional fluoride or products for dry mouth will help
  5. Don’t wait till it hurts – arrange for regular dental visits.

If you are responsible for a loved one in a care facility, be sure to check up on their oral health. While many facilities have workers well trained in oral care, some do not. Learn more at

Images courtesy of the National Institute of Health – National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.


Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. Dr. McGann has opened a new practice in Valley Township, Rainbow Valley Dental. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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