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Health & Wellness

6 Ways to Take Care of Your Teeth as You Age

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It’s not just kids who have to worry about cavities.

Older adults also become increasingly prone to oral health problems, explains Michael Wierenga, who is a dentist and co-owner of 44 West Dental Professionals in Grandville, Michigan. That’s in part, he says, because of challenges with manual dexterity that can make it harder to brush and floss.

It’s also because as people age, they may produce less saliva. “Most people don’t realize this, but saliva is critical to the health of the mouth, protecting against cavities and gum disease. It’s not just for dissolving food, but it helps keep the teeth clean and balance the PH so it’s not so acidic. Once that starts to decline, that’s when we start to see the rate of cavities go up around age 55 to 60,” he says.

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As long as you know the risks, there are a number of things you can do to protect those pearly whites, says Wierenga. He shared the following advice:

Use technology to your advantage. Wierenga says his top piece of advice for people entering their 50s—if not sooner— is to purchase an electric toothbrush and electric flosser, such as a water pick or an air flosser. He says that as people begin to lose their manual dexterity with age, they may not be brushing and flossing adequately and not even know it. He notes the electric toothbrush and flossing devices have made a big difference for his own mother.

“She’s been dealing with rheumatoid arthritis for a number of years,” he says. “This has helped her a lot because handling a toothbrush, handling floss is not easy for her.”

Drink lots of water. To accommodate for decreases in saliva production as we age, Wierenga tells his patients to drink more water and consume fewer things with refined sugars, including fruit juice.

Quit smoking and using tobacco products. Wierenga says that cigarettes and e-cigarettes can have a negative impact on oral health. He says that traditional tobacco products constrict blood flow, which may make people more prone to gingivitis and gum disease; while e-cigarettes seem to dry the mouth out, leaving people more prone to cavities.

Use mouthwash. A regular rinse with mouthwash can make an impact, says Wierenga. “Daily mouth wash can be really helpful. Most have fluoride, which can help re-mineralize the teeth. But mouthwash also has antibacterial effects, which is good for the gums.”

Eat a healthy diet. Wierenga encourages his patients to eat foods that are good for their teeth. Those include healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil; as well as calcium-rich foods, like low-fat dairy products; and items with probiotics in them, such as yogurt, which can help sustain healthy bacteria in the mouth.

Brush and floss daily and see your dentist regularly. Wierenga says that everyone should brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time and floss once a day. Older adults 55 and up should visit the dentist twice a year for regular cleanings and checkups. “Things are going to start to change at that age as far as the risk for cavities and gum disease,” he says.

Prevention is power when it comes to dental health. By taking care of your teeth daily and visiting your dentist regularly, you may be able to avoid curative treatments down the line.

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