Tips for ideal oral care for the elderly
Maintaining good oral health is important to your overall well-being at any age. Taking care of your teeth not only improves your general health and wellbeing, it can also help prevent problems such as infections and cavities that result in discomfort or pain.
Elderly people have a higher rate of tooth decay and gum disease but many senior citizens find it difficult to perform their normal daily healthcare activities and may require some extra support to carry out their daily oral hygiene needs.
Keep reading to find out some of the most common oral health problems that elderly people face and what steps can be taken to increase dental care.
Assisting elderly people with their dental care routine
With improved living conditions and healthcare, the life expectancy of the population of New South Wales has been increasing in recent decades, with statistics showing that the average person in the state is expected to live into their 80s.
As a result, some elderly people may require special care due to their age, disability or risk of neglect. It’s common for these people to require extra support from carers to maintain good oral hygiene and to help them access dental care.
Even though tooth decay and tooth loss are fairly common as you age, it doesn’t mean that it has to be common with you. Poor oral health in elderly people can cause a range of problems including:
Pain and discomfort
Pain and discomfort often lead to mood and behaviour changes in elderly people. Dental problems can also lead to speech problems and reduced ability to smile.
Problems with chewing
Poor oral care can lead to problems with chewing and swallowing which limit food choices and can lead to deficiencies in nutrients.
Bad oral health has been linked to an increase in the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes and pneumonia.
Elderly people who have oral health issues may suffer from reduced self-confidence due to the appearance or discomfort of their teeth which may lead to increased social isolation.
What are the most common causes of oral health problems in the elderly?
It can be much easier to take care of your natural teeth if you know the most common causes of oral health problems for elderly people and develop the right habits to prevent them.
Elderly people are at greater risk of oral health problems for several reasons including:
Changes to teeth with age
Growing older doesn’t mean you have to eventually lose your teeth. Many elderly people are keeping their natural teeth for longer, however; it’s common to see oral health changes as you age such as thinning enamel and tooth loss.
Not attending regular dental appointments
Despite a significant improvement in dental health care in Australia in the last 30 years, Dental health statistics show that only 50% of Australians have seen a dentist or dental professional in the last 12 months.
Even if you feel there’s nothing wrong with your oral health, it’s still important to visit your dentist regularly. Based on how healthy your teeth and gums are, your dentist will recommend how often you should visit the clinic for a check-up. In general, the recommendation is to attend a check-up with your dentist every 12 to 24 months.
Your teeth can easily decay as they age because they come into contact with so many sugary or acidic foods over the years. When bacteria in the mouth mix with sugars in the foods and drinks you consume, it turns into plaque, which sticks to your teeth and causes decay.
Not having enough saliva to keep your mouth wet can cause problems with chewing and swallowing food allowing particles to get trapped between the teeth. Saliva also helps to protect your teeth from bacteria, which means having a dry mouth can increase your risk of developing tooth decay.
In many cases having a dry mouth is a side effect of medications used in the treatment of allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Maintaining healthy teeth and gums
It may seem obvious, but the best way to maintain good dental hygiene is to brush and floss your teeth. The Australian Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth for at least 2 minutes in the morning before breakfast and last thing at night before you go to bed.
A brush with soft or medium bristles is suitable for most elderly people and it’s recommended that you use a toothpaste containing fluoride for the best results.
Diet and oral health for senior citizens
To prevent gum disease, you should eat a diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, fresh fruit and vegetables.
For good oral health, consider including the following foods when choosing your meals and snacks:
- Lean sources of protein
- Lean sources of protein
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy foods
Cleaning and maintenance of dentures
If you have just invested in a set of dentures, you will want to ensure they last for as long as possible. To keep your dentures in good shape you should brush them twice a day with a stiff brush. To clean them you can either use denture cream or warm soapy water.
If you wear a partial denture, it’s even more important that you clean your dentures well. Plaque can build up on the denture and affect your natural teeth which can lead to cavities and gum disease.
Assisting elderly people with their oral health care
Elderly people are more likely to encounter difficulties caring for their dental health because of a reduction in mobility or losses in cognitive ability.
If you have a relative, friend or patient who is having difficulty maintaining their oral health due to their age, you can assist them with their oral health care routine by:
- Keeping their mouth clean by reminding them or helping them to brush and floss daily.
- Make sure they visit a dentist regularly for an oral health check-up.
- Ensure they are getting all of the required nutrients in their meals.
How to assess your oral hygiene needs
All elderly people should keep on top of their oral hygiene needs and have a care plan in place. You can assess your dental care needs by asking the following four questions:
- Are you able to manage your daily oral care or would it help to have assistance with this routine?
- Are you able to use the dental aids that you currently use such as a manual or electric toothbrush, mouthwash and dental floss?
- Are your dentures sitting comfortably in your mouth and do you know how to properly maintain them?
- Are you overdue an appointment with the dentist?
How ConnectAbility Australia helps to improve oral health care for the elderly
Poor oral health could be a sign that you need help with daily living activities. ConnectAbility is a local not for profit organisation and provides support to people in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens area.
As an Approved Provider, we deliver services under the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) and the Home Care Package Program (HCP) or private paid services to help elderly people maintain their independence and keep as healthy as possible.