Dental and Oral Health (Seniors)
Daily Oral Hygiene Routine
At every age, regular daily care of the mouth and gums is important. The daily oral health care routine for an older adult who has his or her own teeth should include:
Brush at least twice a day.
Use a regular or electric (or spin) toothbrush with soft bristles. Be sure to replace it regularly.
Use a small amount of toothpaste, about the size of a pea. The best toothpaste has fluoride and the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance.
If toothpaste causes problems such as swallowing, try using a sensitive toothpaste, alcohol free mouthwash, or just water.
Brush each tooth gently, front and back.
Brush the tongue. Rinse the mouth.
Let the toothbrush air dry.
Older adults may have difficulty flossing their own teeth. A family member/caregiver can help by doing the following:
Use a string of floss 18-24 inches long, and wrap it around the middle finger of each hand.
Grip the floss between the thumb and index finger of each hand.
Start with the lower front teeth, then floss the upper front teeth. Floss through all the teeth.
Work the floss gently between the teeth to the gumline. Curve the floss around each tooth and slip it under the gum. Slide the floss up and down.
Adjust the string of floss for each tooth.
Some older adults may be able to floss on their own by using a floss holder.
The older adult may need additional fluoride, often available as a fluoride rinse or gel. Some products are available over-the-counter, while others are in prescription concentrations. Ask the dentist if a fluoride product would be helpful.
A chlorhexidine rinse can fight germs that cause gum disease. Again, ask the dentist if this type of rinse should be part of the daily oral hygiene routine. This type of rinse is available by prescription from the dentist.
Mouthwash (choose a brand to help avoid dry mouth) will also help keep breath fresh - and help reduce bacteria in the mouth.
These rinses should not be swallowed. For patients with swallowing problems, talk to a dentist.
Regular Visits to the Dentist
Older adults should visit the dentist at least twice a year for a professional cleaning and examination. Those without any remaining natural teeth should also have their gums and oral tissues examined once each year.
For an adult who cannot communicate well, family members and caregivers should provide the following information to the dentist at each visit:
Is there pain?
Is there difficulty eating, chewing, or swallowing?
The older adult's dental history
The older adult's medical history, including a list of medications, history of tobacco use, known allergies, and illness/surgical history
Insurance, billing, and legal information, such as who can legally give consent for treatment
If the patient wears dentures, bring them to the appointment.
To find a dentist, or where to get reduced or no-fee dental care for those in need, visit the following sites:
Ohio Dental Association Dental OPTIONS. Dental OPTIONS is a program provided through a joint partnership between the ODA and the Ohio Department of Health that helps qualified, uninsured adults in Ohio obtain access to dental care.
For those with limited financial resources and no private dental insurance, there is a statewide listing of reduced fee/sliding fee scale dental clinics in Ohio's counties. Simply click onto the appropriate county on the Ohio map at the webpage indicated above. When the next page opens, go to the drop down menu, and select Dental Care Program. The information includes locations, hours, and eligibility criteria for free or reduced fee dental care, and if the clinic accepts Medicaid.
Published with permission from Smiles For Seniors ... an oral health initiative of the Ohio Dental Association.
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Last Reviewed: Jun 27, 2014