When discussing senior health, the topics most often brought to light concern mental and brain health as well as physical health and taking care of your body. Another crucial part of health and wellness that is sometimes overlooked in discussion is oral health care.
A recent study published in the journal European Geriatric Medicine found that elderly patients often have less-than-stellar oral hygiene, which can negatively impact their overall health.
The study does not bring to light any new information, but reiterates the importance of paying attention to oral health care to ensure there are no complications that result in the need for serious dental work or the loss of teeth.
"The things that are talked about in this article have been known for years," Dr. Anthony Iacopino, spokesperson for the American Dental Association and dean of the faculty of dentistry at the University of Manitoba, told Reuters.
It's up to individuals to maintain oral health care
Even though there have been many advancements in the world of dentistry that allows older adults to keep their teeth longer, seniors must do their part as well. Dentists and oral hygienists can make recommendations, but it's up to the individual to keep up with oral health care.
"Advances in oral health care and treatment in the past few decades have resulted in a reduced number of (toothless) individuals and the proportion of adults who retain their natural teeth until late in life has increased substantially," the study authors said.
According the the University Herald, when elderly adults ignore dental health and/or unable to keep their mouths clean, it can lead to further complications throughout the body. Some medications reduce the production of saliva, it increases the risk of oral problems like cavities, gum disease and issues with implanted teeth. Additionally, poor dental hygiene can affect lung conditions, as well as exacerbate heart disease and diabetes.
"Although during recent years increasing attention has been given to improving oral health care for frail old people, there is ample evidence showing that the oral health of elderly people, in particular of care home residents is (still) poor," said the investigators.
Taking care of dental hygiene
Reuters said that a major issue is that some elderly people are unable to keep their mouths clean themselves and must rely on a caregiver to assist with this task. This can be a problem, especially if they're in a care facility where nurses don't always understand the importance of this daily need. Additionally, if improvements are made in terms of oral care, dental conditions could be on the same level as falls, incontinence, lack of mobility and thinking and memory problems.
If you live independently, it's important to engage in dental hygiene daily. Just as you exercise to keep and eat well to keep your body and mind healthy, you also need to ensure you at least brush your teeth everyday. It's even better if you also incorporate flossing and rinsing with mouthwash.
If you or your loved one lives in a care facility, you must make sure that you or your loved one is receiving assistance with their oral hygiene every day. Speak with the caregivers and let them know this is something you insist on to avoid further complications both orally as well as through the rest of the body.
"If you have any doubts about whether that's being done, perhaps spend the day there and watch the care that's been provided to be sure that mouth care is part of it. If you feel they're not getting that care, bring it to the attention of supervisors or administrators of the facility," Iacopino told Reuters.