The Importance Of Oral Hygiene In The Elderly

the importance of oral hygiene in the elderly

Taking on the role of caregiver for senior loved ones is challenging (major understatement!). It’s easy for things like oral hygiene and routine dental appointments to take a back burner as other, more immediate issues are addressed.  

However, oral health is increasingly a focus for senior healthcare providers as we learn more about gum disease and tooth decay, and their link to serious health complications. 

Oral Hygiene And Dental Care Begin At Home 

While dentist appointments are important, oral hygiene and dental care begin at home. If your senior loved one requires medication reminders, s/he might also benefit from brushing/flossing reminders. Both of which should happen at least two – if not three – times per day. 

Adequate nutrition is another staple of healthy teeth and gums – and healthy teeth and gums rely on adequate nutrition to keep them strong. It can present a conundrum. If you notice the fridge and cupboards are bare, check the medicine cabinet and see if there are a nice, fresh toothbrush and visible signs the toothpaste is used regularly. 

Consider adding meal support into the weekly plan, and talk about other senior caregiving services that might keep your loved one living at home independently, while still meeting their daily needs. Replace toothbrushes as needed (every season is a good reminder…) 

7 Reasons Oral Hygiene And Dental Health Is A Priority For Seniors 

The irony is that seniors are more prone to dry mouth, forgetting to brush their teeth, and malnourishment than younger sectors of the population. Yet, it can be more difficult for seniors to get to the dentist – particularly when they live alone, no longer drive, or have a hard time making/remembering their appointments.  

Also, seniors are the most likely demographic to have bridges or dentures, which require regular cleaning, maintenance and “fit-checks” to ensure they’re working well and have a comfortable fit.  

Just as it’s essential to keep in touch with your parent’s doctor(s), it’s equally important to communicate with their dentist to ensure they’re making – and keeping – their appointments.  

Here are seven good reasons why oral health is so important for seniors: 

Gum disease is linked to heart disease 

Seniors with gum disease and/or rotting teeth are linked to higher rates of heart disease, as well as strokes. The American Academy of Periodontology states that adults with gum disease are twice as likely to have heart disease than their peers with healthy teeth and gums. 

It prevents dementia and cognitive decline 

Some studies show that individuals with severe gum disease are more likely to develop dementia. This is a result of chronic inflammation that exacerbates existing Alzheimer’s/dementia – or that continuous inflammation might catalyze their onset.  

Seniors are more prone to dry mouth 

Seniors are more prone to dry mouth because of the medications they take and because they can easily suffer from dehydration. Seniors taking diuretics may intentionally drink less to prevent the more frequent urge to urinate. Unfortunately, dry mouth elevates the risk of gum disease. Find ways to encourage senior loved ones to drink more fluids, and schedule more frequent dental appointments if dry mouth is an issue. 

Good oral hygiene is a diabetes management tool

Is your parent currently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or at risk for developing it? Periodontitis, or severe gum disease, actually hinder the body’s natural ability to make insulin. If it is already in a diabetic state, blood sugar levels become even more difficult to manage in combination with gum disease. The American Dental Association states, “As with all infections, serious gum disease may cause blood sugar to rise. This makes diabetes harder to control because you are more susceptible to infections and are less able to fight the bacteria invading the gums.” 

Prevent a bad denture fit 

The ultimate goal is to keep as many of your own teeth as possible, avoiding the need for dentures. If, however, teeth must be pulled – oral health is even more important in some ways. If dentures aren’t cleaned regularly and maintained to keep a good, comfortable fit, senior nutrition suffers. Also, poorly fitting dentures cause swelling, sores, and gum infection that are incredibly painful and debilitating. 

Minimize the risk of root decay

If the tooth is rotted enough, or the gums are receded enough to expose tooth roots, the root starts to decay. This is bad news. While a root canal may be able to treat a minor to moderate infection, severe infection or decay results in pulling the tooth. 

Avoid catching pneumonia 

Seniors with gum disease are more likely to develop pneumonia, which is a leading cause of death in the elderly population. The same bacteria that build up in the teeth and gums, causing gum disease, can be breathed into the lungs. Once there, they settle in and can cause respiratory infections, including pneumonia. 

Don’t let a simple thing like not brushing his/her teeth or missing dental appointments catalyze malnourishment, poor health, or an unnecessary hospital stay.  

Need Help?

Need support getting a senior loved one to and from appointments? Feel like grocery shopping or meal preparations would help a parent eat better and more often? Contact us here at HomeAide Home Care and schedule a free, in-home assessment to learn more about our senior care services. 

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