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Make sure your smile has style

Most of us are aware of the well-publicised general medical issues we face as we get older, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. However, unless a problem develops, we tend not to think about our oral health, writes Lena Lejmanoski.

If we are to maintain healthy teeth and gums and avoid the discomfort and expense dental problems can bring, then a good oral health care routine is important. Preventive dental care for all, with the emphasis on getting actively involved in choices about your dental care is essential.

Tooth loss is not an inevitable part of ageing. It is the result of an oral disease. The majority of people these days that turn 50 will have most if not all of their own teeth. Dry mouth, tooth decay, gum disease, cracked teeth, recession (getting long in the tooth), wearing away of teeth, and oral cancer are some specific things to watch out for.

Apart from the obvious dental health issues, as we get older changes in lifestyle, diet, physical health, financial situation and routine can also play a part in contributing to dental health problems. These include; difficulty with brushing, dentures, diet, nutrition tips, lifestyle factors and access to dental care.

Oral Health Tips

To help you look after your mouth and make sure you’re doing everything you can at home to ensure your teeth and gums remain healthy follow these simple steps to significantly reduce the chance of mouth problems later in life.

  • Three meals a day and two snacks is sufficient for nutritional needs. Avoid snacks with sugars and starches and sugary drinks. If you do snack between meals rinse with water afterwards.
  • Choose from a wide variety of food groups.
  • Brush gently with a soft toothbrush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Use small circular motions and short back and forth strokes. Take the time to brush carefully and gently along the gum line. Lightly brush your tongue or use a tongue cleaner as bacteria can thrive here, too.
  • Floss once a day to remove plaque and leftover food from between the teeth that a toothbrush can’t reach. Make sure you rinse thoroughly after flossing. If you have never flossed before, ask your dentist to show you the correct way to do it. If brushing or flossing makes your gums bleed or hurts your mouth, see your dentist. Interdental brushes can be used instead of floss to clean between your teeth.
  • You might also want to ask about fluoride rinses or gels as the regular use of fluoride strengthens your teeth against cavities. As you get older you are more likely to get cavities where old fillings have chipped or where root surfaces are left unprotected by receding gums. Fluoride will help.
  • Smoking increases your risk of developing gum disease and oral cancer.
  • Saliva plays an essential role in preventing tooth decay by rinsing away food particles and neutralising harmful acids. Salivary flow and quality tends to change as we age resulting in dry mouth but it can also be caused by medications like antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants and diuretics. This can often be diagnosed by a dentist and a suitable saliva replacement can be recommended. It may help to do this or chew sugarless gum before and after eating.
  • If you can, regular visits (at least once a year) can highlight and treat any problems that are developing, catching them in their early stages. Also, alert your dentist to any changes in your medication and ask them to perform a routine oral cancer screening at your next visit. You can also get your teeth thoroughly cleaned to remove tartar and plaque. Prevention is always better (and cheaper) than cure.

Toothbrushes

Manual – There are many designs available: Soft rounded tipped bristles to prevent damage to teeth and gingivae are recommended. There is little scientific evidence to differentiate the various types of manual brushes. Key factors are the time spent brushing, dexterity, and thoroughness. Use whichever soft brush works best for you.

Power toothbrushes – Some studies show they appear more effective in plaque removal than manual brushing. Good oral hygiene can be provided by either manual or power brushing. It is individual preference.

About

Lena Lejmanoski

Lena Lejmanoski, BDSc (WA), FICD, FPFA, is the chair of the Oral Health Committee of the Australian Dental Association (WA). She is also the WA representative (previous chairperson) of the national Oral Health Committee, the Associate Professor of Restorative Dentistry, School of Dentistry, UWA and works part time in private practice.

For more information on the Australian Dental Association, visit www.ada.org.au

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