THE BLOG

More Action Needed for Seniors' Oral Health

07/19/2013 05:03 pm ET | Updated Sep 18, 2013
  • Dr. Harold Katz Founder, California Breath Clinics; Inventor, TheraBreath Oral Care System

Roughly 75 million Americans are considered to be the generation known as Baby Boomers, or those who were born between 1946 and 1964. This large portion of the population may have reinvented retirement and created a unique community for themselves, but they also have trouble with their oral health. According to a recent study by Procter & Gamble, Baby Boomers' dental health isn't up to par, creating other health issues throughout the body. Senior oral health is important to maintain because bacteria can build up and cause tooth decay, bad breath and gum disease.

The survey conducted by Procter & Gamble and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that senior oral health was among the top three concerns of the over-50 population. In fact, 74 percent of the respondents said they visited the dentist or an oral hygienist at least two times a year, and many people reported visiting a dental professional more frequently today than they did 10 years ago. About 78 percent of the survey's respondents admitted to this habit.

Knowledge but no action. While a large majority of Baby Boomers reported that they were well aware of the importance of keeping up with oral hygiene, there are still various areas of improvement for many individuals. The survey found that 60 percent of Baby Boomers did not use mouthwash, 47 percent didn't floss daily and 34 percent only brushed their teeth once a day. However, many people believe they are keeping up with their dental hygiene routine properly and may be unaware of the necessary actions they must take to have a completely healthy mouth.

"As adults age, it is critical that they continue to maintain a rigorous oral hygiene regimen," Ann Ross, dental hygienist at Mobile Dentistry of Arizona, said. "This should include regular professional dental cleanings and using products that address their oral health needs."

Regular check-ups are a start in the right direction for Baby Boomers, but there are several other steps that should be taken.

Brushing. Seniors must brush their teeth at least twice a day to keep dental plaque at bay and get rid of harmful bacteria that cause dental caries and tooth decay. However, they may have difficulty brushing properly for a number of reasons. Achy hands or joints may prevent them from using enough force to scrub away plaque, or bad eyesight may make it hard to see the trouble areas that need extra brushing. It can help to use a battery-powered or electric toothbrush as well as a magnified mirror to make seeing a bit easier.

Flossing. In addition to brushing, flossing is pertinent. Since a toothbrush cannot work its way into the crevices around the teeth and gums, floss is used to loosen food particles and break up plaque in these areas. Imagine trying to wash your hands of dirt without getting between your fingers. Some of that gunk will linger and create issues. Floss slows down the buildup of tartar, which is dental plaque that becomes hard from the calcifying properties of saliva. Tartar is removed during cleanings at the dentist, but flossing at home can decrease the amount of build up around the gum line. A large amount of tartar will cause bad breath, gum disease and tooth decay.

Rinsing. Mouthwash may be overlooked by people who are trying to maintain a healthy mouth, but germ-killing rinses can reduce plaque and gingivitis and combat bad breath. For example, a study published in the journal General Dentistry tested 139 individuals who ranged in ages 18 to 61 who had mild to moderate plaque and gingivitis. The subjects were randomly split into two separate groups, 70 to one group and 69 to another. One group was given antiseptic mouthwash and the other a placebo. Each group was asked to brush their teeth twice a day and use the appropriate mouthwash for 30 seconds in the morning and at night. All of the individuals used the same type of toothbrush and toothpaste.

After six months, researchers found that plaque, gingivitis and bleeding of the gums subsided more in the group that used the antiseptic mouthwash than in the one that used the placebo. In fact, plaque decreased 26 percent more in the germ-killing mouthwash group.

Healthy diet. There are countless reasons why a healthy diet is important for the body, but it can also do wonders for the mouth. Bad breath, plaque, dry mouth and dental caries can all be prevented if a person consumes an appropriate amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. People of all ages, and especially seniors, should make sure to avoid white bread, fried foods, red meat and artificial sugar to maintain good oral health. Additionally, one must make sure to drink enough water to keep the mouth moist and rinse away leftover food particles.

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