Help your aging loved one keep smiling

If you’re providing loving care to an aging parent or other older adult, pay close attention to their oral health. When you help them take care of their teeth and gums, you’re also protecting their overall health and giving them a better quality of life.

That’s because the mouth is an entryway to the digestive and respiratory tracts, and can spread bacteria and disease throughout the body. Research shows links between oral health and several chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Some oral health problems are more common in older adults.

Oral health problems in adults 65+

Gum disease

Dry mouth

Untreated tooth decay

Complete tooth loss

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Dental Association

Dry mouth and receding gums also cause about half of people 75 and older to develop root caries, or tooth decay at the roots of teeth.1 In addition, 8 in 10 cases of oral cancer are found among older adults with an average age of 63.2

Help older adults protect their oral health by making sure they brush twice and floss once daily, maintain a balanced diet, drink plenty of water and limit snacks and sweets.

Caring for dentures is also important. Dentures should be rinsed after each meal and removed and cleaned each day. It can also be helpful to ask your dentist to place an identifier inside the dentures in case they're misplaced.

If your loved one lives in an assisted living facility or nursing home, special steps must be taken to ensure quality dental care.

Questions to ask about a long-term care facility

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    Inquire if there’s a dentist or other trained dental professional on site.

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    Find out how often residents get a professional dental exam and cleaning.

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    Ask what’s included in the daily oral health care routine and what policies ensure residents follow this routine.

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    Make sure someone on the care staff is helping on a daily basis if your parent or loved one has difficulty taking care of their oral health.

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    Learn about the facility’s procedures for properly taking care of dentures.

Preventive care is key. That includes monthly exams to check for signs of oral cancer — looking for sores, swelling, white or red patches and changes to the lips, tongue and throat. It also includes regular preventive visits with the dentist for both professional cleanings and checkups. Contact the dentist right away if your loved one has any unusual symptoms, tooth decay or other oral health problems.


Dental coverage can help provide your loved ones with the oral health care they need. Most dental plans cover 100% of preventive care, which can diagnose problems and prevent them from getting worse. Coverage also helps reduce the cost of treatment if it’s needed.

While Original Medicare and Medigap don’t cover dental care, some Medicare Advantage Plans have dental coverage. You can also purchase individual dental insurance plans for your parent or loved one. Learn more at


1American Dental Association

2American Cancer Society

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