Wednesday 10 September 2014

Let's help granny keep her teeth! Senior oral hygiene is key to care-giving.

By Daniel Subbotin BSc, BA, DD

Those who dedicate their time and energies to the responsibilities of caring for the senior population are acutely aware of the challenges inherent to those tasks. With advancing age, the senior population is faced with difficulties in such basic functions as mobility, eating, bathing, dressing and simply surviving.

One of the most important concerns, however, is often overlooked. Seniors who are frequently without dental insurance and opportunities to visit dental professionals are subject to numerous problems associated with inadequate dental care.

What are the causes for increased dental problems with the senior population?  Regrettably, they are numerous. Seniors are subject to effects associated with numerous medications that are administered for such conditions as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s.  Mouths change with age and nerves shrink as part of that aging process.

Very often, seniors will have no dental insurance to provide assistance. Mouth soreness can lead to inadequate nutrition and declining health. Dry mouth will often lead to cavities and gum disease. 

Most importantly, seniors very often have no transportation to dental professionals.  This is most recently mitigated by the availability of mobile dental care.  But the size of the problem and lack of financial assistance for seniors result in poor oral health leading to more serious health issues.

Caregivers can be instrumental in reducing the likelihood of periodontal disease, loss of teeth and untreated decay. With routine attention to dental hygiene, either at home or within a residential care facility, we can reduce seniors’ exposure to the numerous conditions frequently associated with aging.

Dry mouth is one of the most significant signs of compromised oral health. Over 400 prescribed medications have dry mouth as one of the side effects. This condition can be treated with simple solutions such as increased hydration, sucking on sugar-free hard candies or chewing sugar-free gum. Ice chips or popsicles can also improve seniors’ dry mouth discomfort.

Improving nutrition will also improve dental health. Be certain that seniors minimize intake of sodas, juices and energy drinks as well as sticky, sugary candies. Coffee and alcohol also contribute to dry mouth.

The solutions are both internal and external. With improved nutrition (substantial water, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy foods), we can substantially impact dental health. Various diseases have direct impact on dental health, especially in the cases of diabetes and heart disease, primarily because of the medications prescribed.  Introducing proper diet will make a terrific difference.

On the external side, it is important to make it possible for seniors to maintain routine care and have access to dental professional services. Whether it be in the home or care facility, seniors must have appropriate tools to contribute to dental health.

In those cases where seniors have mental faculties and are capable of understanding, gentle reminders of the need for routine brushing, flossing and rinsing will be powerful. Make certain that your senior has the toothbrush appropriate to natural teeth or dentures and the corresponding toothpaste or cleaner.

Flossing is always important and should be done after every meal.  Many seniors will benefit from a mouthwash as the final component of oral hygiene, particularly if it contains fluoride with its anti-bacterial effects.

The same rules apply for dementia patients but another level of care will be required. Show the senior how to brush by brushing your own teeth and having him or her imitate your actions. If the patient is incapable of the brushing process, do it for him or her, making certain to be firm but gentle with potentially sore teeth and gums.  Finish with a pleasant, good-tasting rinse that will punctuate the entire cleaning experience as an enjoyable one.

Our aging population is suffering from numerous hardships that include reduced income and mobility, compromised comprehension and a litany of undesirable health conditions.  Caregivers have an implied and specific imperative for attending to the complex dental issues that our seniors face.

Never lose sight of the dignity to which our elderly citizens are entitled. With clean teeth, a happy smile and a lack of dental pain, our seniors will benefit immeasurably from our having completed these important steps on their behalf.

To learn more about how you can help assist a senior with their oral health, or if you have any questions regarding the details of this article, please feel free to contact EPICITI Mobile Dental Care. They provide onsite mobile dental house call services to seniors in nursing homes, retirement homes, long-term care centres, hospitals, and private residences. Serviceable areas for mobile denture clinic services and house call mobile dental cleaning services include the Greater Toronto Area, Scarborough, Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Brampton, Aurora, Richmond Hill and Newmarket.


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