AMARILLO A great set of pearly whites is not an unreachable goal, even if some of them were made in a dental lab, said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert.
But keep in mind the process does require a little effort and a certain amount of maintenance, said Andrew Crocker, Extension gerontology health specialist based in Amarillo.
While all teeth need proper care, the process differs when the teeth are man-made, a situation that many older adults face.
Crocker quoted surveys that reveal about half of people age 55 and older wear some form of false teeth partial or complete dentures. Dentures or partials need to be cleaned daily with a soft toothbrush or brush designed for cleaning dentures, Crocker said. Brush them inside and out with a denture powder or paste, hand soap or baking soda, then rinse with cool water.
“When not in use, dentures should be covered with water or a denture cleaning solution to prevent drying,” he added.
Rules for cleaning older natural teeth are the same rules taught to younger generations, with a couple of notable exceptions, Crocker said.
“In addition to the cavities you have been warned about since you were a child, there are two types of decay that may accompany getting older,” he said. “Root decay is caused by a receding gum line and too much root surface exposed. Tooth decay may be caused by the weakening or chipping of older fillings.”
As with younger teeth, “Daily brushing and flossing may help protect your smile from these two common problems with older teeth,” he said.
Periodontal disease or gum disease also affects large numbers of older adults nearly 75 percent, Crocker said. Look for red swollen gums, pain when chewing, bleeding from the gums when brushing or flossing, and a change in your bite.
The bad news is: “Gum disease and its associated bacteria may contribute to some forms of oral cancer, heart disease and respiratory ailments, among others,” Crocker warned.
But the good news is: “Gum disease may be completely reversible if caught in time,” he added.
What’s the best way to maintain a healthy smile and beautiful teeth?
“The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice per day and flossing at least once per day,” Crocker said. “Decay-causing bacteria still linger between teeth where toothbrush bristles can’t reach. Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line.
“You should also replace your toothbrush every three months.”
People with arthritis who have a hard time brushing and flossing may find the process easier by adapting the toothbrush to fit their grip, Crocker said. Insert the toothbrush handle into a rubber ball, bicycle grip or some other easy-to-hold item, or lengthen the handle by attaching a ruler or wooden tongue depressor.
Or try an electric toothbrush instead of a manual one, he said.
A healthful diet can help too, Crocker said. The calcium and vitamin D in dairy products can help strengthen teeth and bones. Vitamin C found in many fruits and vegetables and the B vitamins in grain products help maintain healthy gums. Lean meats, fish, poultry and beans provide iron, protein, magnesium and zinc.
And remember to visit the dentist at least twice each year.
For more information, visit the American Dental Association’s Web site at http://www.ada.org or contact an Extension agent.
Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences Web site at http://fcs.tamu.edu/ has information on this and other health issues. Click on the link to health and safety.