Senior women enjoying tea

Your smile is one of the first things others notice about you, but that isn’t the only reason to take care of your teeth. Some diseases can start with bacteria in the mouth, and other illnesses have the side effect of hurting oral health. For a variety of reasons, seniors especially should take care of their teeth. We’ll delve into little and big things you can do to keep your mouth healthy at any age.

Seniors and Dental Care by the Numbers

  • By the age of 75, a quarter of Americans have lost all their natural teeth, usually to gum disease or tooth decay.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that seniors may have higher rates of cavities than children do.
  • More than 400 commonplace prescription and over-the-counter drugs have dry mouth as a side effect.
  • Between 2011 and 2014, over a third of seniors with an income lower than around $23,000 per year had tooth decay that was going untreated.
  • It wasn’t unusual for people long ago to have lost most of their teeth by middle age. However, as pointed out by a National Public Radio report, “more than 60 percent of people in nursing homes still have at least one tooth.”
  • Gum disease tends to worsen as people get older. Almost a quarter of seniors between 65 and 74 experienced severe gum disease, according to the CDC. Women are less likely than men to receive a diagnosis of severe gum disease, regardless of age.
  • Each year, approximately 35,000 people receive a diagnosis of mouth, throat, or tongue cancer. The average age of diagnosis is 62. Dental appointments aren’t just for cleanings; they also give your dentist a chance to check for signs of more serious problems.

Everyday Ways to Maintain Your Dental Health

  • Brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes per session using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Floss between your teeth once a day, either before or after brushing.
  • Choose products that include fluoride, such as enriched toothpaste and water, to protect your teeth from decay.
  • Stay hydrated. Your mouth needs plenty of moisture to be at its best. If you experience dry mouth on a regular basis, chew sugarless gum, use lozenges, or try a moisturizing spray. If problems persist, talk with your doctor. A change of medication may be in order, as dry mouth is a common side effect and puts you at heightened risk for cavities.
  • Avoid smoking and consuming alcohol—using the two together is the most common risk factor for cancers of the mouth and throat.
  • If you’re able, absolutely see your dentist at least once a year for a cleaning. Some people may need more frequent visits to maintain healthy oral care.

Americans often end up going without dental care after they turn 65 because Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) doesn’t offer dental coverage except for in specific situations. “What ends up happening is that almost everybody, when they get to be 65, is sort of on their own and they have to pay for dental care out of pocket,” said Dr. Michael Helgeson, chief executive officer of Apple Tree Dental. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

While Original Medicare doesn’t offer dental insurance, some Medicare Advantage plans do. Senior supplemental insurance policies are another option for filling in the gaps. While there are tons of options for dental insurance for seniors when it comes to policy types and coverage levels, one thing is clear—your dental care is too important to do without.

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