Even if you weren't consistent about flossing your teeth during your childhood or teen years (or even in your twenties and thirties), it's never too late to reap the benefits of daily dental flossing.
Oral care in general and flossing in particular is especially important for older adults because they are at increased risk for gum disease due to a variety of factors:
- Overall aging. Even if you are otherwise healthy, your gums will eventually begin to recede as you age. Daily flossing helps promote healthy gums and can slow this recession.
- Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is common in middle-aged and older adults. Research shows that oral health may be connected to osteoporosis in several ways. Studies have shown that periodontal disease can be an indicator of underlying osteoporosis, and studies of women with osteoporosis have shown that they have an increased risk for gum disease.
- Dry mouth. Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a dental care issue that may go unrecognized in older adults because they don’t notice it themselves and don’t mention it to their doctors or dentists. Dry mouth can increase your risk of gum disease because there is not enough saliva to wash away the bacteria and food particles that can contribute to gum disease if they are allowed to build up. Certain types of medications, including anti-depressants and some anti-seizure medications, can contribute to dry mouth. Read the potential side effects for all medications that you take, and if dry mouth is on the list, be diligent about tooth brushing and flossing.
- Sjogren’s syndrome. This autoimmune disorder can occur at any age, but it is most common among women who are at least 40 years old. The two most common symptoms are extremely dry eyes and an extremely dry mouth. If you have Sjogren’s syndrome, the lack of saliva increases your risk of cavities, and it’s important to brush your teeth as often as after every meal and floss at least once a day. Your dental professional also may suggest an antimicrobial mouthwash to help keep cavities at bay.
Don't Live in the Past
Some adults may worry that they are in danger of losing their teeth because they haven’t paid attention to oral hygiene in the past. Although a history of poor oral health increases your risk for tooth loss, preventive oral health care can reduce that risk. Results from a study of 736 adult men showed that those who had healthy oral care habits, including a combination of tooth brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentist, were more likely to retain their teeth as they got older than those who did not maintain such habits. The men who had the longest history of good oral health were most likely to retain their teeth, but even those who had maintained a consistent oral health routine for a shorter length of time were less likely to lose teeth compared with those who didn’t follow a consistent oral care routine.
Technology Makes Flossing Easier
Older adults may find it difficult to floss daily. If you or an older person you know has trouble using standard floss, try an electric flosser, such as Oral-B® Hummingbird, that cleans between teeth and stimulates the gums, while making it easier on unsteady or weak hands. An electric flosser can also be used by a home health nurse or other assistant to help maintain oral health in adults who are bedridden or very limited in their abilities to perform personal care tasks.
Even if you don’t have all your teeth, oral care is important. For older adults who prefer to use a dental floss rather than an electric flosser, spongy floss may be a good choice because it’s made of stretchy nylon fiber that fills the spaces between teeth. That way, it can dislodge food particles from these spaces better than standard floss. Spongy floss also may be a good choice for adults who have bridges or other types of dental appliances.
Growing Older With Confidence
Oral health is an important factor in healthy aging. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy means that bacteria has one less way to get into your bloodstream and cause infections. And daily flossing provides an opportunity for you (or for the caregiver of an older person who needs assistance) to examine your lips, gums, teeth and tongue for any problems such as canker sores, bleeding gums or loose or damaged teeth. Catching problems early is the key to reducing the risk for serious conditions such as gingivitis that could lead to tooth loss if left untreated.