Oral health for seniors

The Canadian Dental Care Plan will help cover the cost of oral health care. Applications are opening in phases for eligible Canadian residents, beginning with seniors.

Learn more about the Canadian Dental Care Plan.

Seniors are living longer than ever before. Advances in oral health care prevention and disease treatment mean that many seniors will have some or all of their natural teeth.

When we age, teeth undergo changes. Sometimes these changes are affected by chronic diseases and the use of medications. Some changes may include:

  • Sensitive teeth - teeth can be sensitive to hot or cold foods and/or touch
  • Exposed roots - gums may start to pull away from your teeth as you age. Exposed roots are exposed to bacteria that can cause cavities
  • Darker or yellower teeth - the colour of teeth naturally changes with age. Also, consuming staining food and drink over a lifetime can change the colour of teeth. Plaque also builds up faster as we age and can accumulate stains

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Oral health and your general health

Maintaining good oral health is important throughout life for overall health and wellbeing.

  • Good oral hygiene can help prevent the development of lung infections such as pneumonia, especially for seniors who have a hard time swallowing. Pneumonia may be caused by the inhalation of harmful types of mouth bacteria, which accumulate when the mouth is not cleaned properly and regularly. Good oral hygiene can reduce the risk of such bacteria going into the lungs.
  • People with diabetes are more at risk for mouth infections, especially gum (periodontal) disease. Gum disease can damage the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place and may lead to painful chewing problems. In cases of severe gum disease, some people may lose their teeth. Gum disease may also make it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels.
  • Gum disease may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Poor oral health may increase the number of harmful bacteria found in the mouth, which may release toxins into the blood that can damage heart tissue.
  • Poor oral health can lower self-esteem and reduce social interactions.
  • Poor oral health is associated with lower quality of life.

Caring for your mouth and teeth

Whether you can take care of your own mouth and teeth or require the help of someone else, teeth and gum problems can be prevented through good oral health habits, including brushing and flossing as well as regular checkups. Left untreated, oral health problems may lead to serious problems in your overall health and wellbeing.

Toothbrush modifications

  • Double-headed toothbrushes can help remove plaque among older adults with reduced dexterity
  • Electric toothbrushes versus manual toothbrushes may improve plaque removal for older adults with reduced dexterity
  • Modifications to the handle of the toothbrush may help improve toothbrushing ability. The handle can be modified by:
    • making it longer and/or wider
    • adding acrylic to mould to an older adult's grip
  • The older adult's choice for manual or electric toothbrush should be respected, as supporting their preference can improve toothbrushing compliance
  • Further information can be found:

Caring for dentures and dental implants

Dry mouth

Dry mouth is very common among older adults and increases the risk of cavities and other types of infections in the mouth that can lead to pain. Dry mouth can be caused by:

  • Medications (the most common cause)
  • Dehydration (as most older adults do not drink the recommended daily amount of water)
  • Radiation therapy to the head and neck for cancer treatment
  • Diseases such as Sjogren's syndrome
  • Smoking (such as tobacco or cannabis)
  • Alcohol use (including the use of mouthwashes containing alcohol)
  • Further information can be found:

Know your mouth

Check your gums, teeth and tongue on a regular basis to make sure they are healthy.

Healthy gums

Should be Should not be
  • Pink
  • Firm
  • Free from pain
  • Red
  • Loose
  • Bleeding
  • Painful

Gum disease

Healthy gums are important for the overall health of your teeth and mouth. Gum disease, which includes both gingivitis and periodontal disease, affects the majority of Canadian adults.

Healthy teeth:

Should be Should not be
  • Free from cavities
  • Clean
  • Firm and intact
  • Free from pain
  • Loose or chipped
  • With fillings that are loose or feel sharp on the
  • tongue
  • Painful

A healthy tongue:

Should be Should not be
  • Pink
  • Smooth
  • Moist
  • Free from pain
  • Uneven
  • Red
  • Dry
  • Painful
    With white, red or speckled patches or lumps that stay for longer than 2 weeks

Well-fitting dentures:

Should be Should not be
  • Comfortable
  • Helping you talk and chew
  • Helping you smile
  • Causing pain or swelling
  • Loose
  • Affecting the way you talk

When dentures are worn, they should be checked on a regular basis to make sure they are in good shape and do not need to be adjusted or repaired.

Oral health and older adults with dementia

Research suggests that there appears to be a link between poor oral health and dementia but the exact nature of the relationship is still unknown. However, evidence shows that older adults living with dementia may:

  • Have more cavities than older adults without dementia
  • Be less likely to visit an oral health professional compared to older adults without dementia
  • Have difficulty chewing their food
  • Experience pain in the mouth and they may not be able to communicate this issue to others
  • Need assistance cleaning their dentures and dental implants
  • Have generally poor denture hygiene

Dry mouth is also more common among older adults with dementia than those without dementia, and those who are wearing dentures may have red and swollen gums more often than older adults without dementia.


Older adults, especially when they require the help of someone else, may be facing barriers in getting oral care. Older adults may:

  • Feel uncomfortable with the caregiver's technique of physical closeness
  • Feel some anxiety or fear, either because of past negative dental experiences or attitudes towards oral care
  • Not be able to afford dental treatment or to physically attend those appointments because of transportation issues
  • Have to rely on some caregivers who are hesitant to provide oral care because of lack of skill, time or understanding of how important oral health really is

These barriers are even more challenging for older adults with dementia, who can show some resistance to necessary care.

Caregivers can refer to these tips to find out how to provide oral health support to older adults living with dementia.

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