Dental health care is a growing need among B.C.’s aging population to prevent pain, infection, tooth loss and negative effects on general health and quality of life.
Older adults are increasingly reliant on others to maintain a healthy mouth.
Declining dexterity, eyesight and cognitive abilities along with an increase in medications or foods and drinks that contain sugars result in seniors being more susceptible to dental health issues which can progress rapidly without proper care.
“Preventive dental health care is particularly important among the senior population due to the growing range and complexity of health issues that seniors face,” says Dr. Hank Klein, president of the British Columbia Dental Association (BCDA). “Unfortunately, many frail elders are not able to care for their mouths properly. Family members and care providers have an important role to play in daily mouth care.
Dentists and their staff have an important role to play in disease prevention, through regular examinations to diagnose problems early and professional cleanings.
All of these elements result in better health outcomes for seniors.”
The BCDA offers the following tips for seniors’ caregivers:
• Brush teeth daily: Brush natural teeth at least twice a day, preferably after breakfast and especially before bed or long naps.
Electric or adapted toothbrushes can help seniors with reduced dexterity while a reminder to brush can help those with cognitive issues. Always encourage a senior to brush his or her own teeth and provide assistance as needed.
• Clean between teeth: Floss daily (before bed) to remove food and debris between teeth. A floss holder or an interproximal brush can help.
• Denture care: Remove dentures from the mouth and clean daily using a soft toothbrush or denture brush and a liquid soap. Brush over a towel to prevent damage if dropped. Gently brush the gums and tongue with a soft toothbrush moistened with water.
• Care for crowns and bridge work: Dental restorations, such as bridges or crowns, may require special care. Speak to your dentist for advice.
• Look in the mouth: Many seniors will not verbally express pain. Specifically ask the senior if they are experiencing any problems, discomfort or pain in their mouth. Look in the mouth for any signs of redness, white blotches, swelling or sores.
• Dry mouth: A dry mouth can be caused by medications or reduced fluid intake, and can cause discomfort and increase the risk of decay. Watch for signs of dryness such as cracked lips and/or corners of the mouth. Ask your dentist for advice on ways to alleviate dry mouth.
• Visit the dentist for an exam, even if the senior wears a denture: By visiting the dentist regularly, not only can cavities and gum disease be caught early, there is also the potential to detect other diseases, such as oral cancer.
The dental team can provide advice to care for a senior’s oral health, addressing any specific challenges, including how to brush and floss teeth.
• Visit BCDA tips online www.bcdental.org/caregiverresources