Tip of the Month #2: Looking After Your Teeth and Gums

04/06/2009 - Articles

Tip of the Month #2: Looking After Your Teeth and Gums

By: Help the Aged


Good care of your teeth and gums as you get older is essential, for many reasons. Here are some tips on how to get the best results!

More and more people are keeping their natural teeth for the whole of their lives. In England, 62% of men and 56% of women over 65 still have some or all of their natural teeth 1 . And it is both possible and desirable to keep our natural teeth for our entire lives. Natural teeth work better than false teeth, give our faces shape and form, affect our readiness to smile, our ability to eat comfortably and our confidence.

Gum disease and tooth decay are the most common diseases that can affect older peoples' oral health. Neither is unique to older age, and neither is inevitable. There are simple steps that we can take to help to make sure that our teeth and gums remain in good condition.

Preventing gum disease

Gum disease is caused by plaque. Plaque is a soft, sticky, colorless film of bacteria that is constantly forming on our teeth. If plaque is left around teeth and gums, it can cause gums to become inflamed. This results in redness and bleeding when you brush. This is known as gingivitis , and can be reversed by effective brushing.

If plaque is not removed, the disease starts to affect the supporting tissues of the teeth. This is called periodontitis . Bacteria start to destroy the attachment of the teeth to the bone and will eventually start to destroy the bone itself. As gums recede and bone is lost, the root of the tooth can become sensitive and prone to decay. Eventually, the teeth will become loose and eventually will be lost.


  • Brushing removes plaque and helps prevent gum disease. You will need a small-headed medium soft nylon toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, and a good brushing technique!
  • Try to use a fixed routine for brushing. Ask your dentist for advice on the best way to clean your teeth.
  • Try to spend three minutes brushing your teeth. If you find it tiring, try cleaning one part of your mouth in the morning and the rest in the afternoon. It's important to get all tooth surfaces clean at least once a day.
  • Don't stop brushing if your gums bleed when you brush. It's a warning signal to remind you to remove plaque more thoroughly.
  • If you smoke, try to give up. Smokers may be more prone to gum disease.


Preventing tooth decay

It is widely thought that brushing prevents tooth decay. This is not true. Preventing tooth decay requires careful attention to your lifestyle.


  • Tooth decay can be prevented by cutting down sugar consumption and using fluoride toothpastes.
  • Try not to eat sweet snacks or drinks containing sugar between meals. Sugar is often used as a flavor even in savory foods, and can be hidden in many ways. Watch out for sugars on food labels.
  • Why not substitute sugary food with 'safe snacks' like fresh fruit and vegetables? Remember that your body needs a varied diet for your overall health as well as your dental health.
  • Choose sugar free medicines.
  • Consider using a mouthwash containing fluoride and an antibacterial agent as this can also help to prevent tooth decay.


If you have dentures

It is a myth that if you have dentures, you don't need to worry about your oral health, even if you have no natural teeth at all.


  • Like natural teeth, dentures also attract plaque. Take extra care to clean your mouth under the denture with a soft brush. If you have some natural teeth, pay particular attention to cleaning them when you clean your dentures.
  • It's not enough to just soak dentures. They also need to be brushed carefully each day with unperfumed soap, toothpaste or denture paste.
  • You can get special cleaning solutions for soaking dentures. Make sure you read the instructions carefully and soak them for the right length of time. Then leave your dentures dry in a denture pot overnight.
  • A set of dentures does not last a lifetime. On average a set of dentures should last between five to ten years. This is because the shape of your mouth will change over time, and ill-fitting dentures can damage your mouth. It is important to have regular check-ups, even if you don't have any natural teeth.
  • Ask your dentist for advice on how to care for your dentures and your oral health.


Prevention is better than cure

Regular check-ups are the best way to make sure that your teeth and gums stay in good working order, whether you have your natural teeth or whether you have dentures.

Where to get help

There is plenty of information on dental care for seniors on the Internet. Good sites are "Dental Reference" at and the American Dental Association at .

In the USA the majority of people don't have a 'dental plan', so that they have to pay for dental care. However, many people have acquired the habit of regular trips to the dental hygienist, where they can get advice on the need for a dental consultation.

In some countries, dental care is freely available. In the UK, everyone should be registered with a dentist for NHS continuing care, which is often free; citizens who don't have a dentist can contact their local Primary Care Trust or Health Board. Or call the NHS on 0845 4647 (or 0800 224488 in Scotland).

This Tip of the Month is a service sponsored by Help the Aged (see first link below).


This Tip of the Month is based on Help the Aged's information sheet 'Oral health and older people', written in association with the British Society of Gerodontology




Health Survey for England 2000.  , Office for National Statistics, 2002


Created on: 12/19/2002
Reviewed on: 04/06/2009

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