Geriatric Dental Care

With proper care and regular dental visits, there is no reason a senior cannot keep his or her teeth for a lifetime.


How should I care for my teeth?
Meticulous toothbrushing using a soft-bristle toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste is recommended. Daily flossing between teeth removes plaque, a soft, sticky, colorless bacterial film which forms on teeth continuously and can lead to cavities and gum disease if not removed. Regular dental visits are also important to maintain good oral health. Remember to bring a list of current medications to your dental visit, including over the counter medications.

What dental problems should I be concerned about?
Periodontal (gum) disease affects most adults to varying extents. This starts as gingivitis, caused by the bacteria present in plaque. Gums may be red, swollen and bleed with brushing. If left untreated, this can progress to receding gums and periodontal pocketing (gaps between the teeth and gums), which weaken the teeth and bone and could eventually result in tooth loss.

Why is my mouth dry?
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva. Saliva is nature's way of helping us clean our teeth. The lack of normal salivary flow can lead to an increase in cavities, gingivitis and other mouth infections. It can also cause difficulty tasting, chewing, speaking and swallowing.

What are the causes of dry mouth?
Dry mouth may be caused by medications, stress, irradiation, autoimmune disease or neurological factors. Most cases of dry mouth are side effects of many over the counter and prescription drugs. Antihistamines, as well as drugs used for treating high blood pressure, depression and other conditions can also cause dry mouth.

What can be done to treat dry mouth?
Consult your physician and PDA member dentist about medication you are taking. You may be able to adjust your dosage or change to another medication. There are prescription drugs that may improve salivary gland function. Salivary substitutes may be recommended. In addition, drink plenty of water and avoid tobacco and caffeinated, citrus and alcoholic beverages. Try to avoid salty and dry foods. Chewing sugarless gum may help. Make sure you brush, floss and see your PDA member dentist regularly.

What should I do if I have arthritis and find it difficult to clean my teeth?
Consult your PDA member dentist who might recommend an electric toothbrush or other oral hygiene aids.

How do I care for my dentures? Should I see a dentist if I am wearing dentures?
Dentures should be cleaned after meals and before going to bed at night. They should be removed from the mouth for at least four hours a day or as otherwise directed by your dentist. If you notice changes in your gums, such as red or white sores or raised bumps, report them to your PDA member dentist immediately. It is important for your dentist to check whether you have denture sores or if they have become ill fitting. See you PDA member dentist for needed maintenance or replacement.

What about nursing home oral health care?
When choosing a nursing home for an elderly person, inquire as to whether there is an onsite dental facility. Ask if there are on call dentists and whether staff is trained in oral health care and can recognize problems.


Academy of General Dentistry: Seniors' Oral Health
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: Dry Mouth