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Seniors: Test Your Mouth IQ

If you’re unhappy about your teeth, you may not feel like flashing a grin. Whether you wear dentures or a partial plate — or have all your natural teeth — you deserve a bright smile and a healthy, pain-free mouth.

Are you doing all you can to help your mouth age gracefully? Test your knowledge by answering true or false to the questions below. The information comes from OralLongevity™, the American Dental Association’s dental health initiative for older Americans.

Losing your teeth is a natural part of the aging process.

False. Your teeth can last a lifetime if you continue to give them proper care. One key to healthy gums and teeth is thorough cleaning every day. Brush gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line. Use toothpaste that contains fluoride. And don’t forget to floss — at least once a day — to sweep away the food and bacteria that collect between teeth. Seeing a dentist regularly is also important for preserving your smile.

If you wear dentures, you can skip regular checkups with a dentist.

False. Dentists care for your entire mouth, including your gums. Whether you have natural teeth or wear dentures, your chance of having gum irritation or other problems increase as you age. Mouth cancer is also a risk for older adults. Denture wearers should continue to see a dentist regularly for a complete mouth checkup. Your dentist can also check to see that your dentures fit properly and are in good condition.

Older adults can still get cavities in their teeth.

True. In fact, areas of the mouth where gums are receding or older fillings are starting to break down are especially prone to cavities. What’s more, certain medicines used by older adults can lead to dry mouth, which increases the risk for tooth decay.

Bad breath that doesn’t go away could be a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.

True. Gum disease is a common problem among older adults. One sign of this infection includes frequent bad breath and/or a bad taste in the mouth. Another telltale sign is gums that bleed easily and are often sore, tender, or swollen.

As long as I have no toothache or mouth pain, it means my mouth is healthy.  

False. As you age, your mouth changes, and the nerves in your teeth become less sensitive to pain. That means you may not experience soreness or tenderness from tooth decay or gum disease. Don’t wait to feel pain to visit a dentist. Keep getting checkups regularly. Often times, the sooner you discover dental problems, the easier they can be treated.

A dentist can help older adults relieve the symptoms of dry mouth.

True. If you are bothered by dry mouth, talk with your dentist. He or she can help you identify the source of the problem — and recommend some effective treatments. There are many products now available that can help moisten your mouth and keep you more comfortable.

It’s important to keep my dentist informed about any health problems I have or medicines I take.

True. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, have been linked to gum disease. And some prescription medicines can dry out your mouth, which increases your chance of developing cavities. The more your dentist knows about your general health, the better he or she can stay alert for related dental problems.

Electric toothbrushes are a good option for people with arthritis or other conditions that make it difficult to maneuver a toothbrush.

True. Ask your dentist to recommend a quality affordable electric toothbrush that gives you extra brushing power.

If you notice white or red patches on your gums or tongue, you should see your dentist.

True. Red or white patches may be a symptom of a mouth disease, including mouth cancer. If you notice any change in your mouth that lasts for more than two weeks, see your dentist or a doctor promptly.

It's important to clean dentures thoroughly at least once a day.

True. Use a denture care product and follow cleaning instructions to keep your dentures looking clean and smelling fresh. Taking your dentures off for at least four hours every day — ideally while you sleep at night — gives your gums a healthy break.

“Consumer Resources: OralLongevity™.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/2881.aspx Accessed 2013.

"Oral Longevity.” American Dental Association. 2007 www.ada.org/sections/publicResources/pdfs/orallongevity_brochure.pdf Accessed 2013.

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