Oral health tips for older people

Renton Dental sorts the dental health facts from the fiction

If you’re an Australian over a certain age, you probably remember your parents or grandparents wearing dentures because they’d lost all their natural teeth. But this scenario is becoming less and less common as time goes by.

In 1979, a massive 60% of Australians aged over 65 had none of their natural teeth left. Just 10 years later, this figure had fallen to 44% – and this improvement has continued. It’s now estimated that by 2019 only 20% of older people will be living with no natural teeth.


But living with your own teeth for longer means looking after your teeth for longer. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) reports that a far greater proportion of older Aussies experience problems with their teeth and mouth compared to the general population.

Gum disease, tooth decay, dry mouth and even oral cancer can affect your mouth at any age – so taking care of your own oral health in your senior years is very important.

At Renton Dental we’re always happy to help you sort the oral health facts from the fiction. Please read our oral health tips to find out how to keep your mouth healthy for a lifetime.

Tooth decay and cavities in older people

The Myth: Only young children get cavities

The Facts: Dental caries (tooth decay) can affect anyone

Though it’s tempting to dismiss tooth decay as “just a problem for kids”, in fact it can affect anyone’s natural teeth. Without good oral hygiene, the sticky bacterial film called dental plaque can build up on your teeth, producing acid that will eat away your teeth’s hard enamel and form a cavity.

The good news? There are several things you can do as an older adult to protect your teeth against decay. Avoid dental caries by:

  • Brushing carefully twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Not only can fluoride prevent tooth decay, it can even work to heal early decay. And instead of choosing bottled water, drink Brisbane’s good quality fluoridated tap water instead for a further source of fluoride.
  • Flossing your teeth every day – yes, every day – to remove the plaque from between your teeth where your brush can’t reach.
  • Visiting Renton Dental twice a year for a preventive dental check-up. We’ll keep a close eye on your oral health, and address any potential dental problems in their early stages. If we diagnose that you have a higher risk of tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of the medicines you take), we may recommend you visit us more frequently or have a fluoride treatment.

Preventing gum disease in older people

The Myth: Every older person will get gum disease

The Facts: You can prevent gum disease at any age

When dental plaque is allowed to build up along and under your gum line, it can develop into a potentially serious condition called gum disease. This infection of your gums and the surrounding tissues that hold your teeth in place comes in two forms:

  • Gingivitis, a milder form of gum disease that can be addressed by ensuring good oral hygiene. A tell-tale sign of gingivitis is red and swollen gums that can bleed easily when you brush or floss your teeth.
  • Periodontitis, a more advanced form of gum disease that causes your gums to pull away from your teeth, forming pockets which become infected. As your body fights this infection, bacterial toxins and your immune response begin to break down your jaw bone and the tissue that holds your teeth in place. You can see how untreated periodontitis will eventually destroy your gums and bone, causing your teeth to become loose and need extraction.

The good news is that gum disease isn’t simply an unavoidable side effect of ageing. It can be prevented with good oral hygiene, including thorough brushing and flossing at home and regular professional cleanings at Renton Dental.

To help prevent gum disease you should also give up smoking, and eat a balanced diet that’s low in sugar and features plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole-grain bread, seafood, and lean meat.

The causes of Dry Mouth for older adults

Myth: Dry mouth is an unavoidable part of getting older

Fact: Dry mouth isn’t a symptom of ageing; it’s important to find and treat the actual cause

As well as helping you chew, swallow, and talk, your natural saliva has an important role to play in defending your mouth from the harmful germs that cause tooth decay and oral infection. Your saliva also contains calcium and phosphate which can actually help reverse early tooth decay.

You may have dry mouth if you don’t have enough saliva, or spit, to keep your mouth wet. Dry mouth can make your dentures feel uncomfortable or rub against your gums, and they might not fit as well.

It’s important to realise that dry mouth is not a disease or a part of the ageing process. It’s the symptom of an underlying problem, many of which are more likely to affect older people. Dry mouth can be caused by:

  • Some common medicines prescribed in old age – including some for high blood pressure and depression – which have the side effect of reducing saliva flow.
  • Diseases including cerebral palsy, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and lupus, which may affect the salivary glands.
  • Radiation therapy during cancer treatment causing damage to the salivary glands.
  • Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer making your saliva thicker, and causing your mouth to feel dry.
  • Nerve damage from head or neck injuries, affecting the nerves that tell your glands to make saliva.

If you think you may have dry mouth, talk to the Renton Dental team for advice. We will try to determine the underlying cause of your dry mouth, and determine what treatments could help.

What causes Oral (Mouth) Cancer?

The Myth: If you don’t use chewing tobacco, you won’t get oral cancer

The Facts: Using any type of tobacco can increase your chances of getting oral cancer

Though you may have heard the myth that only chewing tobacco causes oral cancer, in fact any tobacco use can increase your risk of developing the disease. What’s more, your likelihood of contracting oral cancer increases with age – most people are older than 55 when diagnosed with oral cancer.

The important thing is to catch oral cancer in its early stages, when the disease is easier to address. Because pain usually isn’t an early symptom of oral cancer, you should look out for any changes in your mouth – particularly if you’re a smoker.

Make an appointment for a check-up with Renton Dental if you notice any of these symptoms for more than two weeks:

  • An irritation, lump, sore, or thick patch in your mouth, throat, or lips
  • A white or red patch in your mouth
  • A sensation of something being caught in your throat
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving your jaw or tongue
  • Numbness in your tongue or elsewhere in your mouth
  • Swelling of your jaw that causes your dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • Pain in one ear without any hearing loss

Please note though that very often, these symptoms don’t mean cancer but could be caused by an infection or other problem. Nevertheless, if you have one of these symptoms, it’s important to have it properly assessed, because if they do mean cancer, it can be treated more successfully when caught early.

The Renton Dental team are committed to helping older people enjoy the best oral health possible. To find out more or to book your preventive dental appointment, fill out the form here or call our friendly Renton Dental team today on 07 3369 2340.