A healthy smile is important at any age, but maintaining dental health presents unique challenges for seniors. Let's take a closer look at the issue and highlight how caregivers can promote overall health and wellness in seniors through improved oral care.
Seniors and Dental Health
From going to the dentist to brushing and flossing, the tasks associated with healthy smiles aren't usually found at the top of anyone's list of fun things to do. For older adults, however, maintaining dental health can be more than a mere inconvenience.
In addition to age-related medical conditions, medications, dexterity problems, and other factors can cause oral health problems in older adults. Over time and without intervention, the combination of dental problems and poor dental care can lead to a number of detrimental quality of life outcomes for seniors, ranging from difficulty chewing to changes in appearance.
According to data shared by Decisions in Dentistry, older adults experience significantly higher rates of tooth decay than younger people. Additionally, poor oral health has been linked to higher incidences of infections, and can also aggravate existing conditions, such as heart conditions and diabetes.
Given its potential severity, senior dental health has been prioritized as a major public health issue calling for improved disease prevention and management strategies.
Is your Aging Loved One at Risk?
According to Decisions in Dentistry, "root caries is a complex multifactorial disease." While age-related gingival recession and exposed root surfaces are the most common risk factors for tooth decay, poor oral hygiene and plaque buildup, snacking on sugary foods and drinks, tobacco use, and inadequate dental care are also associated with higher risk.
How Caregivers Can Help
The good news? Seniors today are enjoying better oral health than previous generations due to changes in behavior and self-care, improved access to treatment, and advancement in the field of dentistry. Caregivers can help seniors benefit from these changes in a number of ways.
For starters, routine dental visits are a vital part of diagnosing and proactively treating common senior dental issues, such as xerostomia/dry mouth and changes to dexterity. For the latter, for example, swapping out a manual toothbrush for an electric one can be an easy but effective fix.
Twice-daily brushing, limiting sugar intake, and avoiding smoking are all considered "best practices" for promoting optimal oral health. And while fluoride is usually associated with children, high-risk seniors can also benefit from fluoride treatments.
Caregivers should also keep watch for any changes to tooth and gum health, including sensitivity; difficulty chewing or swallowing; and new bumps, lesions or swellingcares, as these may indicate underlying problems.
As with many aspects of caregiving, educating and involving the patient can also be instrumental to best outcomes. Involving aging loved ones in the conversation can help them be more engaged in the process of caring for their own dental health.
One last thing to keep in mind? Losing the ability to properly maintain teeth isn't just a physical issue; it can also impact an individual's dignity. An empathetic approach is invaluable when it comes to helping seniors cope with tooth loss, dental disease, and other oral health issues.
If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.
mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care, such as oral care; dental care for people with dexterity challenges; and dentures. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. For more caregiver support resources, access our free online caregiver videos today.