Why is oral health care important for older adults?

Healthy Aging Leave a comment , , , ,

As the aging population is increasingly retaining their natural teeth, their need for optimal oral health care also increases.

Older peoples’ mouths are prone to oral disease and those with natural teeth are more likely to have advanced gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis).  Oral health care for older people is often further complicated by a past dental history including crown and bridge work, partial dentures and implants.

Oral health is linked to general health, and oral conditions involving teeth, gums and dentures can significantly affect overall well-being and the ability to age positively.

For example:

  • Oral pain and difficulty with eating can affect nutritional intake and body weight and therefore skin integrity, strength and mobility, and continence.
  • Oral pain may also affect mood and behavior, especially for people with dementia who find it difficult to self-report their pain and discomfort.
  • Poor oral health is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia is a major cause of morbidity and mortality for hospitalized and institutionalized frail older people.
  • Chronic oral infection can complicate the medical management of general illnesses such as diabetes, chronic heart failure and respiratory diseases.
  • Poor oral health results in bad breath and affects people’s ability to speak, socialize and feel happy with their appearance.
  • Medications taken by older people often cause dry mouth (xerostomia) which affects speaking, eating and also increases the levels of oral bacteria and infection.

Oral health care may be overlooked by community-living patients with decreasing levels of cognition, health and mobility.  Cost and transport is also a factor affecting older people and their decisions around accessing dental treatment services.

As people age they tend to interact with a range of health workers more frequently than they do a dentist. For older people admitted to acute hospitals, oral health assessment and oral health care should be considered as an integral component of patient-centered care and a valuable opportunity to address these health issues.

Older people may have a range of health problems or disabilities that impact on their ability to care for their own oral health and may need assistance during their hospital stay as well as follow up care on discharge. This may be related to issues associated with cognitive impairment or functional limitations such as hand and upper limb function due to poor dexterity, pain and strength. It may also involve functional problems with mouth and tongue movements and swallowing.

What can patients, families or carers do to help an older person maintain good oral health in hospital and at home?

For healthy teeth and gums follow these simple steps:

  • use a soft toothbrush
  • clean your teeth or dentures twice a day
  • use a fluoride toothpaste
  • drink water when you are thirsty
  • sip water if your mouth is dry
  • eat a healthy diet
  • avoid sweets and sugary drinks between meals
  • visit your dentist for a regular check up.

Source:  SA Health, https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au

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