You may wonder why you’re suddenly getting cavities
when you haven’t had them in years. As we get older,
we enter a second round of cavity prone years. One
common cause of cavities in older adults is dry mouth.
Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. However, it
is a side-effect in more than 500 medications,
including those for allergies or asthma, high blood
pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety or depression,
Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. This is just
one reason why it’s so important to tell your
dentist about any medications that you’re taking.
Your dentist can make recommendations to help
relieve your dry mouth symptoms and prevent cavities.
Here are some common recommendations:
-Use over-the-counter oral moisturizers, such as a
spray or mouthwash.
-Consult with your physician on whether to change
the medication or dosage.
-Drink more water. Carry a water bottle with you,
and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Your
mouth needs constant lubrication.
-Use sugar-free gum or lozenges to stimulate saliva
-Get a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air.
-Avoid foods and beverages that irritate dry mouths,
like coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks, and
acidic fruit juices.
-Your dentist may apply a fluoride gel or varnish to
protect your teeth from cavities.
Many older adults have gum, or periodontal disease,
caused by the bacteria in plaque, which irritate the
gums, making them swollen, red and more likely to
bleed. One reason gum disease is so widespread among
adults is that it’s often a painless condition until the
advanced stage. If left untreated, gums can begin to
pull away from the teeth and form deepened spaces
called pockets where food particles and more
plaque may collect. Advanced gum disease can
eventually destroy the gums, bone and ligaments
supporting the teeth leading to tooth loss. The good
news is that with regular dental visits gum disease
can be treated or prevented entirely.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are
about 35,000 cases of mouth, throat and tongue cancer
diagnosed each year. The average age of most people
diagnosed with these cancers is 62. During dental visits,
your dentist will check for any signs of oral cancer.
Regular dental visits are important because in the
early stages oral cancer typically does not cause pain
and early detection saves lives. Some symptoms you
may see include open sores, white or reddish patches,
and changes in the lips, tongue and lining of the
mouth that lasts for more than two weeks.
Paying for Dental Care after Retirement
Many retirees don’t realize that Medicare does not cover
routine dental care. Begin to plan for your dental
expenses in advance of retirement so you don’t have
to let your dental health suffer once you’re on
a fixed income. Organizations like AARP offer
supplemental dental insurance plans for their members.
Discount dental plans are another option that typically
have a lower monthly fee than traditional dental
insurance. You select a dentist within the plan network
who has agreed to provide certain services for 10 to 60
percent less than the typical fee. You pay the reduced
fee out-of-pocket, and there is no claim paperwork to
fill out. You can search for a dental plan at the National
Association of Dental Plans website. Many dentists
offer no interest or low interest financing plans that
may be a better option than paying for your dental
work on a household credit card with a higher interest
rate. If you have concerns about continuing your dental
care due to a limited income, talk to your dentist. He
or she may be able to offer solutions.
Do I Need to Take an Antibiotic before a Dental
If you have a heart condition or artificial joint, be
sure to tell your dentist. You may think it’s not relevant.
After all, what do your heart and joints have to do
with your teeth? But, there are conditions
with a high risk of infection and an antibiotic is
recommended prior to some dental procedures.
Dentists follow recommendations that have been
developed by the American Heart Association and
the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in
cooperation with the American Dental Association.
Talk to your dentist about how these
recommendations might apply to you.
Caregiving for a Disabled or Elderly Loved One
You may have a parent, spouse or friend who has
difficulty maintaining a healthy mouth on their own.
How can you help? Two things are critical:
-Help them keep their mouth clean with reminders
to brush and floss daily.
-Make sure they get to a dentist regularly.
These steps can prevent many problems, but tasks
that once seemed so simple can become very
If your loved one is having difficulty with brushing
and flossing, talk to a dentist or hygienist who can
provide helpful tips or a different approach. There
are dentists who specialize in caring for the elderly
and disabled. You can locate a specialist through
the Special Care Dentistry Association’s referral directory.
For those who wear dentures, pay close attention to
their eating habits. If they’re having difficulty eating or
are not eating as much as usual, denture problems could
be the cause.
When you’re caring for someone who is confined to bed,
they may have so many health problems that it’s easy
to forget about oral health. However, it’s still very
important because bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled
into the lungs and cause pneumonia.
If you are a representative for a nursing home resident
who needs dental care and is enrolled in Medicaid,
there is a regulation, called an Incurred Medical Expense,
that may help pay for medically necessary care as
determined by a dentist. The Medicaid caseworker at
the nursing facility and the dentist providing care can
work together to apply the Incurred Medical Expense to
pay for needed dental benefits.