Top dental tips for senior citizens

Below are tips from Cape-based dentist and Litha Pharma consultant, Dr Marc Sher for optimum dental care for senior citizens and their carers.

The deterioration of oral hygiene with age not only affects appearance but also inhibits the ability to eat and communicate. Malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies and insufficient oral care are additional challenges.


False teeth (dentures) are not like regular teeth!

False teeth do not behave in the same way as regular teeth. It is important to adapt one’s diet to the changing of one’s mouth. Food that could once be eaten with original teeth may not be easy to eat with false teeth. Avoid hard food that requires tearing (tough meat, raw vegetables etc). A soft diet consisting of fish, pasta, and soups is much easier to adapt to. Once you have adapted to dentures, explore different food varieties.

Keep dentures clean!

Using the correct denture cleaning product is crucial for the longevity of your appliance. Follow the instructions of your chosen denture cleaning product carefully. Never use toothpaste to brush false teeth as this may cause corrosion on the denture surface.  Also, note that plaque can still accumulate on false teeth, leading to bad breath and the potential to develop infections associated with dentures. So, keeping dentures clean is crucial.

Avoid sleeping with your dentures in.

Sleeping with your dentures in can lead to a condition known as denture stomatitis, a fungal infection of the mucosa (gum tissue). This is caused when the protective action of saliva is cut-off from the underlying gum tissue (mucosa), resulting in a redness of that tissue.  It is commonly seen in elderly patients who smoke. The gums and/or palate remain painless. Visit your dentist regularly to check if you are suffering from stomatitis which can be easily treated with antifungal medication.

Ill fitting dentures can lead to traumatic ulcers.

Ill fitting dentures can cause discomfort and lead to traumatic ulcers. Dentures need to fit snugly or the repetitive movement can cause an ulceration of the gum. This is incredibly painful, limiting eating and making talking uncomfortable. In this event it is vital to visit your dentist to try and improve the fitting surface of your denture. In the mean time, Bye Mouth Ulcer can be used to treat traumatic ulcers periodically.


Use a mouthwash.

Mouthwash is an excellent way for the elderly to maintain optimum oral hygiene. As one gets older and the ability to brush properly is lost, the daily introduction of a mouthwash will help keep the bacterial count low. Using an electric toothbrush will also improve the way the mouth is cleaned, as the rotation of the brush head remove plaque more effectively than a manual toothbrush, especially in the elderly where manual brushing can become tiring and difficult.

Regular visits to the dentist are crucial.

A check-up twice a year with a dentist is critical in maintaining a stable oral condition for the elderly patient. These visits should be combined with a thorough cleaning session by the oral hygienist. The dentist will also screen the mouth to make sure there are no signs of oral diseases including oral cancer, which becomes more common as age advances.

Saliva flow is slowed down.

The most important natural protector of the teeth, saliva, is commonly seen to diminish with age.  Sjogren syndrome and the use of certain drugs can lead to a total dryness of the mouth. These patients need to be treated with extra care as the teeth become extremely vulnerable to decay. Special mouthwashes do exist to help the elderly treat Sjogren however please consult with your dentist beforehand.

Certain changes of the mouth are directly related to aging.

Certain changes can occur in the mouth with age.  For example, the tongue can change in the elderly causing large swollen nodules on the side of the tongue (foliate papillae) as well as a large distinct vein can be seen at the base of the tongue (lingual varicosities). Both these may alarm the patient initially, but are completely normal and not harmful in any way.

Check your medication!

Many elderly patients may be taking some form for anticoagulant to prevent blood clots. It is very important to inform your dentist of such medication and consult with your physician before any major invasive dental treatment. Having a tooth removed while on anticoagulants can cause excessive bleeding and is difficult to manage.

It is also common for elderly patients to have had some form of prosthesis placed in their body i.e. heart valve replacement or prosthetic hip. This usually requires a form of anti-biotic cover prior to any major dental treatment. Patients or carers are urged to check with their doctor or dentist is they require such medication.

Bye Mouth Ulcer is available at health shops, pharmacies, Dis-Chem, Pick n Pay and Medi-Rite at the recommended retail price of R74.00.

For more info, see: and call 021 447 6743.

Contact Dr Sher on 021 439 1141


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