Don’t Forget Oral Health Issues in Your Senior Loved Ones

Posted: 1/31/2020 8:00 AM by Interim HealthCare

Did you know that gum disease has been linked to a raised risk of developing dementia? It’s true: a recent study found that “severe gum disease” had a “modest link” to dementia. In addition, the study found that lifestyle factors like smoking, exercise and alcohol consumption levels did not appear to have any effect on the connection.
So what does this mean for the seniors you love? They need to be sure to practice good oral hygiene habits like brushing their teeth at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day and seeing their dentist for a cleaning/teeth checkup at least twice a year.

Good oral health often means good overall health in seniors

Oral health for everyone is more important than most people may realize. Poor oral health is linked to:
  • Cardiovascular disease, clogged arteries and stroke
  • Pneumonia
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Dementia (as mentioned above)

Every condition on the list above should be on your senior loved one’s radar -- as well as your own.

The risk factors of osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, and pneumonia also increase as people age, simply because they…age. Adding poor oral health habits to the mix just raises the chances more, so upping their toothbrushing/flossing game should be a priority.

Seniors and poor oral health habits

Older adults may not have learned strong oral health habits from their parents (regular tooth brushing didn’t become a habit for most people in the U.S. until after World War II). Younger Boomers (those born after 1957) probably learned of it in the classroom, but if your senior loved ones were born before then, they may not have been practicing brushing and flossing regularly from their early years.

Some people also look at twice-daily brushing and flossing as burdens. Most people - not just seniors - skip brushing their teeth; one-third of adults don’t floss their teeth and about the same amount don’t brush their teeth at least twice a day.
Add in physical issues that can make it hard for seniors to brush their teeth and floss, and it’s easy to see why your older loved ones may have decided it’s too much trouble.

Let’s not forget dentures

Denture care also is important for seniors. After all, if dentures aren’t cared for properly, your senior loved one may not be able to eat as well. What’s more, if the dentures aren’t fitted properly, or inserted properly, they can cause a lot of pain. 
Dentures need to be cleaned every day, and their care is more complicated than for natural teeth and could be more difficult for a senior who has vision, cognitive or dexterity issues. They also need to be checked daily for breaks and, if broken, need to be professionally repaired (never try to repair dentures at home).

How you can help

You might want to start by mentioning what you’ve just learned about the importance of oral health when it comes to overall health and then mention your own tooth brushing habits (and possibly how you’ve improved them now that you know how important it is).
This should easily segue into talking about your loved one’s oral habits. Some of the things of which you should remind your loved one regarding good oral hygiene habits include:
  • Brushing twice a day/flossing once a day.
  • Using mouthwash to remove food particles after brushing/flossing.
  • Limiting the amount of added sugars eaten (cookies, cakes, candy, soda, etc.).
  • Replacing toothbrushes every three months. Sooner if the bristles become splayed out or worn.
  • Avoiding tobacco use, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
  • And, of course, making an appointment with a dentist’s office for every two months at least for dental cleanings and checkups.

When getting to the dentist is difficult

Many seniors no longer drive - or shouldn’t. They may not be able to walk to a bus stop to get a ride to the dentist or bus service may not be available. (A ride-share service such as Uber or Lyft can help here, unless your loved one’s uncomfortable using the apps.) You also may not be available to get them to dental appointments.

Helping you make sure your loved ones receive proper dental care

Senior home care can help your loved ones get the oral hygiene care they need to stay healthy. Caregivers also can drive them to and from the dentist’s office and provide important reminders for oral care. This can help your loved ones stay healthy, helping to ease your worries - and theirs. Contact the Interim HealthCare location nearest you for more information.