It’s probably not a surprise to learn that your oral health affects your overall wellbeing and quality of life, whatever your age – but for the elderly, the risk of poor dental health is greatly increased. This isn’t just because of the general wear and tear on teeth over time, which of course is part of it; there are some chronic illnesses, more likely to affect an older person – such as diabetes or heart disease – that can exacerbate or even create dental problems.
It’s important for elderly people to receive regular dental care in order to prevent common issues like toothaches, tooth loss, or gum disease, and to continue being able to eat and enjoy food – but things like a lack of transport, physical disabilities, or conditions such as dementia could mean that an older person ends up neglecting their dental health, which could lead to bigger issues down the line.
Here are some of the top reasons that dental care for the elderly should be considered a priority:
One of the reasons older people are more at risk of tooth decay is dry mouth. Common in seniors, and also a side effect of some drugs taken for asthma, high blood pressure, and depression, dry mouth affects the body’s production of saliva.
Saliva is important in protecting the teeth from bacteria, which harms tooth enamel and causes cavities and tooth decay.
An unfortunate side effect of gum disease is that there are no symptoms at all until the disease is already in the advanced stages. Two out of three over 65’s have gum disease, which causes sore or bleeding gums, problems with chewing, and eventually tooth loss.
One in 5 adults aged 65 and over have lost all of their teeth, and a huge reason why a lot of seniors aren’t getting enough nutrition from their diets is problems with eating caused by tooth loss.
A lot of people don’t realise that poor oral health is linked to heart disease, but it is! Inflammation of the gums caused by gum disease increases the risk of heart disease, and can also make some existing heart conditions worse, as well as putting you at higher risk of a stroke.
Having diabetes can cause dental problems because high levels of glucose in saliva helps bacteria to grow in the mouth, contributing to tooth decay and gum disease.
If you are older and have poor dental hygiene, then you are at greater risk of developing bacterial pneumonia. This is particularly true for smokers. This is because when you breathe any bacteria that is in the mouth can get into the lungs.
The elderly are more at risk of oral cancers, but regular dental check ups can spot the signs of this early. Again, it’s especially important for someone who smokes or chews tobacco to keep on top of their dental hygiene.
Knowing some of the reasons why it’s so important for seniors to take care of their oral health is one thing, but how can we ensure that our older loved ones are doing all they can to look after their dental hygiene themselves?
Set reminders – If an elderly loved one is forgetful, you might have to set reminders so that they brush their teeth regularly every day.
The right type of brush – A soft electric toothbrush could make dental hygiene easier for an older person, especially if they are suffering arthritis or other mobility issues with their hands or wrists
Regular flossing – flossing helps to prevent plaque and gum disease, and there are lots of tools on the market now that can assist with this if regular dental floss is fiddly or awkward for an older person
Keeping dentures clean – It’s important that if an elderly person wears full or partial dentures, that they are cleaned every day, and that they are removed at night. As with regular brushing, it might be an idea to set a reminder for a loved one to help them with this
Schedule regular appointments – regular dental appointments are necessary to keep teeth healthy and to prevent problems before they occur. It’s recommended to see a dentist at least once a year for cleaning and a check up
Encourage a healthy diet – a diet that isn’t too high in sugar will help to prevent tooth decay as well as other health problems
If you want to know more about ways to encourage an elderly loved one to look after their health, or how Care In Kent can help with all aspects of at-home care, please get in touch with a member of our dedicated team.