Community Blog

October is National Dental Hygiene Month

By Debbie Humphrey

Partials, dentures, implants, I’ve seen them all. In my many years as a caregiver, helping seniors with dental hygiene has always been one of the more important responsibilities we face.

If you think about it, when seniors were young, dental floss had not been conceived, there were not supermarket shelves stacked with boxes of fluoride toothpaste, and dentists were fewer and farther between. What resulted was a generation of aging men and women with tooth decay and loss, along with periodontal issues requiring extractions, specialized treatment, and the application of prosthetic devices.

Dental hygiene is extremely important for all ages, but it is a necessity for seniors. I was fascinated to learn about one study that concluded problems in the mouth like periodontal (gum) disease, was as strong an indicator of heart disease as cholesterol levels! In fact, the American Academy of Periodontology states that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease or heart disease, than those who do not suffer with oral conditions.

Pneumonia is another dangerous possibility when dental hygiene is not taken seriously. When bacteria are present and inhaled through the mouth to the lungs, pneumonia can set-in. When oral health is good, this is much less likely to happen.

A severe case of gum disease known as periodontitis prevents the body from using insulin, which has a direct correlation to diabetes. Additionally, high blood sugar levels, a characteristic of diabetes, can lead to gum infections, as well.

With all of that being said, good oral self-care practices, as well as professional visits with a dental physician, are typically more complicated with seniors for a number of reasons. Complicating factors include consumption of multiple medications, cognitive changes and physical disabilities and impairments.

One common ailment older adults experience when taking multiple medications is dry mouth, or Xerostomia. This condition affects 30% of seniors over the age of 65, and 40% of elderly patients over the age of 80. It is a side-effect to the medications, and also occurs in seniors with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Making sure a senior is sipping tap water throughout the day, along with using oral rinse applications, will help this condition.

Arthritis is another problem for seniors in terms of dental hygiene. Gripping and keeping hold of a toothbrush or attempting to floss natural teeth are basically impossible for those with arthritis in their hands. With osteoporosis and arthritic joints in the spine, hips, knees and legs, it is often difficult to stand for any length of time to perform oral hygiene tasks.

Seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other cognitive challenges will likely forget to brush their teeth, or remove and soak their dentures, without the assistance of a family member, friend, or caregiver.

Just because teeth have been removed and prosthetics are in place, doesn’t mean an adult is out of the woods when it comes to dental concerns. Dentures and partials that are loose-fitting can cause issues with oral health, too. The fungus Candida Albicans can spread between the gums and dentures with a lack of dental hygiene. This can cause inflammation in the gums, which is very uncomfortable, and unhealthy. Moreover, a loose partial or denture can make it more difficult to consume foods and beverages and rub sore spots in the mouth.

The American Dental Association recommends seniors:

-Brush twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
-Use an electric toothbrush for better cleaning
-Floss or use another inter-dental cleaning device to remove food from between teeth
-Rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash at least once/day
-Clean full or partial dentures daily by removing them at night, soaking in a cleansing solution overnight, and replacing them in the morning, using denture adhesive as needed.
-Drink tap water since it most likely contains fluoride to help prevent tooth decay
-Quit smoking and dipping tobacco, because tobacco use increases the risk of gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss
-Visit the dentist on a regular basis (every six months) for a complete dental check-up, oral exam, and cleaning
-Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes dairy and high-fiber foods

If you know a senior who needs assistance with proper dental hygiene practices, transportation assistance to/from the dentist, or meal preparation for a healthier diet, please give me a call. I am happy to offer a FREE in-home consultation to discuss specific needs and ways our caregivers can lend a hand.

Home Helpers® proudly serves male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Contact me today to learn more about the many services offered through Home Helpers® We are Making Life Easier℠ 727.972.2539

Source: American Dental Association