Oral Health For The Senior Population

Why is dental health so important? There are significant links between dental health and overall health. Compared to other parts of the body, people often ignore problems with their mouths. It is estimated that nearly 48 percent of U.S. adults have some sort of periodontal disease. Bleeding and tender gums, oral pain, and mouth sores or infections are common problems which are often ignored but can affect not only a person’s quality of life but their health status as well. Older adults need to be especially concerned about their oral health due to its relationship with systemic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, and the effect of some medications on the oral cavity. This year some 36,000 plus new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed. Dental diseases like tooth decay, and oral diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis, cause pain, difficulty in chewing, gums to bleed while brushing and bad breath, as well as teeth to loosen. Gingivitis is the precursor to periodontal disease, which is an infection caused by bacteria that gets under the gum tissue. Good oral care, medication use and nutrition, in addition to regular dental checkups, play a vital role in how healthy your teeth and mouth will be.


Brush and floss at least twice every day, use fluoride toothpaste. Flossing helps to remove food and plaque which gets lodged or forms between the teeth and gums. Flossing helps to reduce bad breath and gum disease. Using a mouthwash can help reduce plaque from forming, reduces infection and helps eliminate bad breath as well. Always remember to change your toothbrush every three to four months or after a sickness.

Eat, drink and be wary. Healthy, unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods help the body fight any infection. Reduce sugar intake. Sugar is a major cause of dental problems. Drink fluoridated water; fluoridated water benefits everyone, regardless of age.

Visit the dentist office regularly; it is important even if you don’t have regular teeth. Know your medical history, and share it with your dentist along with an updated list of medication. Early detection is key. Be sure the dentist or dental hygienist performs an oral cancer screening at least yearly, especially if you smoke or chew tobacco.

Check your mouth regularly. Warning signs include bad breath, sensitive gums which are red, sore, shiny or swollen, and gums which bleed after brushing or flossing. Check for small lumps, thickened areas, red or white patch lesions or sores on the sides of the mouth, on the floor of the mouth and on the lower side of the tongue, which may indicate oral cancer. You may also have a feeling of tingling or numbness in the mouth. Avoid any type of tobacco use.



Dry mouth: a reduction in the amount and flow of saliva increases the risk for cavities (tooth decay). Saliva contains anti-microbial components and minerals that may rebuild the tooth. Drinking water or sugar-free drinks throughout the day will keep the mouth somewhat wet. Also, if the medication allows, taking it during meal time may help. You also may choose to use sugar free candies and gum or a saliva substitute for dry mouth. There are diseases which cause dry mouth as well.


If you have dentures, it is important to remove them each night and to visit a dental professional at least yearly for an examination of your gums, cheek and tongue. Like natural teeth your dentures must be brushed daily to remove food deposits and plaque. Brushing helps dentures from becoming permanently stained and helps your mouth stay healthy. It is best to use a brush designed for cleaning dentures. Avoid using hard-bristled brushes since they may damage dentures. Some denture wearers, who don’t use toothpaste, may use hand soap or mild dishwashing liquid, which is acceptable for cleaning dentures, but avoid using other powdered household cleaners, which may be abrasive. Also avoid using bleach.

Please remember to contribute toward your OFA nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable at current levels without the support of participant contributions. Be aware that Food Stamps can be used toward your contribution. I do not want to have to make any further cuts to nutrition services. Thank you for your support.

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program provides nutritious noon meals at several Congregate Dining Sites throughout the county along with a Restaurant Dining Out Program. Our dietitian, Cheryl Walhstrom, RD, is available for nutrition counseling in your home at no cost to you. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Call the office for more details and information at 753-4471, 661-7471 or 363-4471.