Oral care is about much more than just having an esthetically pleasing smile. Proper oral hygiene is important for maintaining a good quality of life, especially for seniors. The Canadian Dental Association states that poor oral health can directly impact a person’s quality of life. Factors such as infections, pain and missing teeth can influence the way a person speaks, eats and socializes.
Causes & Risks
Oral neglect in older adults is especially concerning because natural aging weakens the immune system, making it harder for bodies to fight infections. Oral neglect allows plaque and tartar to build up causing gingivitis, infections and eventually gum disease if it’s not treated early on. There is extensive evidence linking periodontal (gum disease) to a variety of serious health conditions including the following:
- Heart disease
- Loose or missing teeth
- Oral pain and sensitivity
- Oral cancer
- Respiratory disease
The link between oral infections and other diseases in the body is becoming well documented and accepted within the healthcare community. It emphasizes the importance of good oral hygiene and the role it plays in overall health and wellness.
Prevention & Maintenence
So what can you do to prevent poor oral hygiene? Registered Dental Hygienist, Danielle Rabaey, explains three common challenges seniors face when it comes to oral hygiene and gives tips to maintain a healthy smile:
Many seniors don’t have the dexterity to brush or floss their teeth properly. Generally, hard to reach areas of the mouth such as the back lower molars are neglected. As a result, pieces of food and bacteria build up which causes cavities, pain and more serious issues such as gum disease (periodontal disease).
- Consider purchasing you or your loved one an electric toothbrush. Most models are designed to improve access to hard to reach areas of the mouth and removes plaque more effectively than manual brushes.
- Store toothbrushes in a bathroom cupboard or drawer. Leaving a toothbrush out in the bathroom exposes it to bacteria that can lead to illnesses.
- Aim to replace your toothbrush every 3-6 months and always after recovery from an illness such as a throat infection or cold.
- Properly cleaning the tongue is especially important because it harbors the most bacteria compared to other areas of the mouth.
- Oral care should occur a minimum of twice daily.
If your parent or loved one wears dentures, it’s important to discuss how to properly care for them. The biggest misconception about dentures is that they don’t require the same level of maintenance as natural teeth.
- Full and partial dentures need to be cleaned on a daily basis to prevent plaque and food build up.
- Dentures should be brushed twice a day.
- Purchase a denture brush and avoid using regular toothpaste when brushing dentures. It is an abrasive substance and can damage the dentures material. This leads to breaks, cracks and scratches which are breeding grounds for bacteria.
- Using the denture brush, clean the dentures carefully, paying extra attention to the top and bottom surfaces.
- Wet a cloth and wipe your gums out completely to remove any bacteria or lingering food particles trapped under the dentures.
- Place dentures in a glass with a cleaning agent and soak overnight.
Regular check-ups are crucial to oral health. Even if you have dentures, it’s still important to schedule visits with your dentist. People with dentures should see a dentist regularly to check for changes in bone levels and to screen for oral cancer. Many dentists will help adjust dentures that fit either too loosely or too tightly. Dentures that don’t fit properly can cause trauma to the gums and lead to abrasions.
- Talk to your loved one about the importance of scheduling regular dental checkups.
- Assist your loved one with navigating the health care system. Encourage them to book an appointment with a dental care professional they are comfortable with.
- Offer to arrange transportation to and from the appointment to make it seamless.
Oral health professionals like Danielle understand that proper oral hygiene is a lifelong commitment that you can’t avoid just because it requires a lot of work.
Whether your loved one lives at home or in a senior living community, the next time you visit try to make a point to ask them about their oral health routine. Practicing daily hygiene, caring for dentures and going for regular check-ups can go a long way in preventing future health issues.
*This blog is not to be used as a definitive source of information when making health-related decisions for yourself or a loved one. Always directly consult with a trusted healthcare professional before implementing changes to your routine. If you have concerns, schedule a dentist appointment and seek advice from a healthcare professional.