Your guide to the best strategies and must-have products that can help keep your smile bright and your mouth healthy.
You brush, and if you're feeling extra virtuous, you floss. But did you know that there are other steps you can take to help ensure healthy teeth as you grow older?
Proper dental hygiene becomes even more important once you turn 65. That's because older adults are at a higher risk for certain dental issues, such as gum disease and cavities.
Luckily, there are some basic products and simple strategies that can help stave off dental problems. Here's how you can refresh your dental care routine and keep your smile beautiful for life.
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Take A Bite Out of Healthy Foods
“For healthy teeth, I recommend smart food choices,” says Sally Cram, DDS, a Washington, D.C.-based dentist and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA).
Dr. Cram suggests incorporating these foods into your diet:
- Lean protein, such as chicken, turkey, and fish
- Low-fat dairy products
- Cereales integrales
“These foods are important in preventing tooth decay,” says Dr. Cram. “It is also important to limit your intake of ultra-processed foods and beverages that are high in sugar.”
Calcium is important for good dental health, too. Dr. Cram recommends consuming 1,000 mg of calcium per day, preferably from foods rather than supplements. Choose low-fat dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. Leafy greens such as spinach and kale are also good sources of calcium.
Use the Right Toothbrush
Always use a soft-bristled toothbrush and replace it every 3 to 4 months.
“The specific brush can be whatever you prefer as long as you do a thorough job on a consistent basis,” says David Okano, DDS, MS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology and professor at the University of Utah School of Dentistry.
If arthritis or other dexterity issues make it tough to hold a toothbrush or floss, there are ways to modify the way you brush, says Dr. Okano. Consider an electric or battery-operated toothbrush, a larger-handled toothbrush, and a floss holder, he suggests. Another hack that helps some who have difficulty holding a toothbrush is to attach the toothbrush handle to your hand with a wide elastic band.
Choose A Toothpaste with Fluoride
Fluoride is a mineral that helps fight cavities. In a process called remineralization, it repairs the damage caused by harmful acids and bacteria. Make sure you are taking advantage of this resource by using a fluoride toothpaste.
“I always recommend looking for a toothpaste with fluoride in it,” says Dr. Cram. “The ADA Seal of Acceptance is a great first step in identifying the best toothpaste for you to use.”
Beyond remineralizing your teeth, fluoride can help prevent and treat gum diseases like gingivitis, says Dr. Okano.
You can also ask your dentist about specialty toothpastes that contain a particular type of fluoride called silver diamine fluoride (SDF). This is a type of fluoride that dentists sometimes apply after a cleaning or as part of a treatment plan, but it's also now available in some over-the-counter toothpastes.
A 2017 systemic review looked at three randomized, controlled trials and evaluated the effectiveness of SDF. The review concluded that SDF prevented cavities in older adults. No serious adverse events were reported, although SDF must be reapplied regularly to keep working. If your dentist recommends this for you, be sure to ask about the proper way to use it.
Recommended reading: 5 Reasons to Get Your Wisdom Teeth Removed at 65+
Fine Tune Your Flossing and Brushing Technique
Use dental floss, pre-threaded flossers, or a water flosser to clean between your teeth and close to the gum line. And be sure to rinse after you floss.
Then brush your teeth using small circular motions and short back-and-forth strokes for a full two minutes. Be sure to brush gently and carefully along the gum line, and brush your tongue lightly, too. If you're an aggressive brusher, look for an ultra-soft bristle toothbrush.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see older people make is not brushing their teeth twice a day for two minutes,” says Dr. Cram. “The other mistake is not having regular dental cleanings and checkups at the dentist.”
Practice Good Denture Care
Be vigilant about cleaning your dentures, whether they are full or partial.
“It is essential to clean dentures daily with denture cleaner because bacteria like to stick to them,” says Dr. Cram. “And be sure to take your dentures out of your mouth for at least 4 hours out of every 24 hours to keep the lining of your mouth healthy.”
Treat Dry Mouth
Saliva might not seem all that important, but it is the mouth’s primary defense against tooth decay. Saliva keeps the tissues in your mouth healthy, washes away food, and even neutralizes harmful bacteria in your mouth. In short, it offers first-line protection against cavities and other mouth problems.3
If you don't make enough saliva, you may have a condition called dry mouth. Officially known as xerostomia, it's a condition that can cause an inadequate flow of saliva.
Xerostomia can lead to:
- Constant sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry throat and mouth
- Trouble speaking
Fortunately, there are treatments that can offer help. The easiest one? Try sipping water or sugar-free drinks. Making sure your whole body is hydrated will help keep your mouth hydrated, too.
Try these other strategies to stave off dry mouth symptoms:
- Ask your dentist about using artificial saliva to keep your mouth wet
- Avoid soft drinks, acidic fruit juices, caffeine, and alcohol
- Choose sugar-free hard candy or gum to help stimulate saliva production
- Reduce your intake of salty or spicy foods
Ask Your Dentist About In-Office Fluoride Treatments
In a 2022 Journal of Dentistry study on older adults, researchers found that topical gel and fluoride treatments prevented cavities. Ask your dentist if this in-office treatment could benefit you.
If your dentist offers a topical fluoride treatment, fluoride will be applied to your teeth during an office visit. The topical fluoride comes in a liquid, gel, or foam.
See our sources:
Caring for your teeth and mouth: National Institute on Aging
Study on the use of silver diamine fluoride in older adults: Gerodontology
Dry mouth overview: American Dental Association
Study on fluoride therapy to prevent cavities in older adults: Journal of Dentistry
How fluoride helps prevent tooth decay: American Dental Association
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