by Dr. Laurence Rifkin, DDS* and Hannah Rubin (Brandeis University Student) co-authors
What better time than now to get expert tips on your health from leading dentist Dr. Laurence Rifkin. He and his assistant/co-author/researcher Hannah Rubin have compiled this brief, but essential list, of oral care do’s and don’ts for a healthier life…
It is well established that there is no separation between oral health and systemic health. The mouth is the major portal of entry of microbes or pathogens that enter our bodies. As such, optimal oral hygiene supports not only oral health but the wellbeing of the entire body. This is especially important in our older years.
As the population ages, so does their body and needs for additional preventive dental care. Teeth wear down, gums recede, and the mouth gets drier often due to medications and reduced salivary flow. In addition, our immune systems aren’t as robust as they were when we were younger. This has been reemphasized with the current pandemic with the older population being more susceptible to infections and a poor response or recovery. Sometimes physical coordination and eyesight reduce the effectiveness of oral hygiene which leaves more plaque and bacteria in the mouth. Finally, poor nutrition and increased intake of carbohydrates may increase the chance of tooth decay.
The following are the top ten tips for people 50 years and older:
1) Enhanced Oral Hygiene and Electric or Automated toothbrushes
As we age, oftentimes people have reduced coordination and eyesight which diminishes their ability to brush and floss their teeth thoroughly. Electric or automated toothbrushes will help oral hygiene become more effective. The individual’s oral hygiene needs can be assessed by your dental hygienist and dentist who are experts in teaching effective home care. The dental hygienist provides an important and essential role in the total wellbeing of the patient.
2) Receding Gums
It is common for our gums to recede as we get older. If not properly cleaned, receding gums can trap bacteria and cause root decay and sensitivity. While keeping this in mind, brushing your teeth daily and using an antimicrobial mouthwash containing fluoride will aid in defending against sensitivity, infection, and decay.
3) Limit Consumption of Convenient Foods
Oftentimes many mature people eat food that is convenient rather than helpful, which is commonly crackers, cookies, and bread. With age, our taste buds become less sensitive. Convenient foods like these are carbohydrates and sugars which are sweeter and more highly flavored, adding to the problem of dental decay.
4) Reduced Salivary Flow
After the age of 50, we are often beginning to take medications that may have the side effect of reducing salivary flow that in turn dries out our mouths. In addition to medications, radiation therapy is also a cause of dry mouth in patients. As a result, there is an increased potential for cavities or dental decay because the saliva flow is insufficient to dilute the acids from the bacteria that normally occur on the surface of our teeth.
5) Preventive Screening for Oral Cancer
You should be screened at minimum yearly, but preferably at every dental visit. This is convenient and only takes a few minutes at your dental hygiene appointments every 3-6 months. Not seeing the dentist and dental hygienist often enough can leave problems untreated and cause them to worsen over time. It is imperative that you have regular annual screenings so in case oral cancer may be detected, then you are able to catch it in its early, more manageable, and potentially curable stages. Excessive alcohol usage, smoking, and vaping may also impact your oral health by increasing the chance of oral cancer and other systemic diseases.
6) Grinding Teeth or Bruxism
A patient may grind their teeth while they sleep, or due to daily stress. Grinding can damage and shave the enamel of the tooth and expose the dentin beneath which makes them more susceptible to decay. This also affects the overall color of your tooth and increases the chance of tooth breakage.
7) Oral Fungus and Denture Hygiene
Patients wearing removable dentures have an increased chance of fungal infections. The addition of stress, smoking, diabetes, and HIV can support oral thrush, which is a fungal infection inside the mouth. If you have a mouth sore in or around your mouth that is persistent for over two weeks, you should visit a dental professional. Ill-fitting and dirty dentures can retain bacteria which irritates and inflames the gum tissue. The bacteria on the dentures may also induce stomatitis, which is painful mouth sores.
8) Tooth Cavity Resistance
It is important to use a toothpaste or mouth rinse that contains fluoride in order to protect the teeth and make the surface more cavity resistant. Additionally, daily brushing and flossing with proper technique will help reduce the number of bacteria and food on the surface of your teeth.
9) Replace Failing Dental Work and Missing Teeth
Old and failing Dental Restorations increase the chance of decay, fracture, and infection of both teeth and gum tissue. If left unrepaired, bacteria are able to infect the gums and pulp tissue through cracks and openings in the tooth’s surface. This could lead to avoidable root canal treatments or even tooth loss. Missing teeth often cause bite problems, teeth breakage, and inadequate food chewing.
10) Short and Long-Term Health Prevention
Working closely with your physician to optimize your immune system can help you avoid future illness, discomfort, and expense. Your personal nutrition, exercise, sleep, and regular medical checkups all add up to better overall health. Be sure to maintain consistent and thorough medical checkups and don’t wait for symptoms to appear. There is an old proverb, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
Laurence Rifkin’s protocol for enhanced oral hygiene:
1) Wash your hands and face
2) Prepare antimicrobial mouthwash
3) Sanitize your toothbrush with the mouthwash
4) Floss your teeth properly
5) Place toothpaste on sanitized toothbrush, brushing your teeth and tongue thoroughly
6) Rinse off your toothbrush thoroughly and re-sanitize with mouthwash
7) Store your toothbrush away from any source of contamination
8) Rinse and gargle your mouth for 10-20 seconds with the mouthwash
9) Wash your hands
10) It’s most important to perform this just before sleeping
If you have any concerns about your oral health and would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rifkin, visit www.drlaurencerifkin.com or call (310) 273-0200
*Dr. Laurence Rifkin career is a cosmetic dentist, international lecturer, educator, and artist, who is dedicated to providing preventive and aesthetically beautiful dental care. Dr. Rifkin has been in private practice for 44 years and has also been an instructor at both USC and UCLA schools of dentistry. He is currently a member of some of the most recognized dental academies and was the President of the Academy of Microscope Enhanced Dentistry (AMED) in 2017.