Most of us care for our teeth without much assistance, save from our dentist. But that can change as we get older. A senior adult sometimes needs the help of a family member or a close friend, even with the basics of personal oral care.
At the same time, an older adult's other pressing health needs can be so overwhelming for their caregiver that their oral health needs move to the back burner. But the condition of a person's teeth and gums is directly related to overall health and well-being, especially later in life—it deserves to be a high priority.
First and foremost, caregivers should focus on daily oral hygiene to prevent tooth decay or gum disease, the two most prevalent diseases capable of severely damaging teeth and gums. Dental plaque, a thin bacterial film accumulating on tooth surfaces, is the top cause for these diseases. Removing it daily helps lower the risk for either type of infection.
Older adults may begin to find it difficult to brush and floss on a daily basis. Caregivers can help by adapting the tools of the job to their situation. Adults with diminished hand dexterity might be better served with a power or large-handled toothbrush, or switching to a water flosser for flossing. If they're cognitively challenged, it might also be necessary to perform these tasks for them.
Because of medications or other oral issues, older adults have a higher propensity for chronic dry mouth. Saliva neutralizes acid and supplies antibodies to fight infection, so not having enough can make the mouth environment more conducive to harmful bacteria. Caregivers should interact with their loved one's doctor to help reduce dry mouth through alternative medications or products to improve saliva flow.
An older person may also have dental work like crowns, bridges or dentures that protect their oral health and improve dental function. Be sure they're seeing a dentist to regularly check their dental work and make adjustments or repairs as necessary.
Good oral health is important in every stage of life, but particularly in our later years. Watching out for an older adult's teeth and gums can make a big difference in their overall quality of life.
If you would like more information on dental care for senior adults, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging & Dental Health.”