Caregiver’s Guide to Seniors’ Oral Health

Looking AheadIssues with the teeth and gums are often a sign of a larger problem in the body. Whether it shows a poor diet, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, the condition of the mouth is not something to put on the back burner. Research has shown that gum disease left untreated can exacerbate these and other chronic health conditions, and affect one’s overall wellbeing. While sometimes an individual’s poor oral health may be obvious, other times it may only be recognizable by an expert. The mouth is especially important to take note of in seniors or other individuals with serious health conditions.

Regular check-ups with dentists, including cavity treatments, cleanings and X-rays, can help people avoid serious ailments in the mouth. No matter the age, it is important to visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings so that built up dental plaque, which leads to tartar, is cleared away, and any tooth decay is taken care of before it becomes too serious. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford cavity treatments when they are necessary. While it is still very important to make sure that tooth decay is taken care of appropriately, caregivers can learn preventative measures to ensure that these issues are avoided and the oral cavity is clean and fresh.

Check for training sessions
Groups in specific areas may take action to educate the community on proper senior oral health training techniques. For example, the University of Delaware Center for Disabilities Studies and Delaware Division of Public Health will hold training sessions in June for caregivers who are required to maintain someone else’s oral health. This session teaches individuals about daily mouth care, preventative practices, the importance of maintaining a healthy mouth and main causes of oral health problems. Consider researching your area to find a similar informational meeting where you can learn more.

Maintain communication
If you are the caregiver for another person, it is important to make sure you are aware of any aches and pains they have in the mouth. Senior oral health may be hard to maintain, but overlooking a sharp or chronic pain in a tooth or the gums can lead to further issues. Pain is often the sign of tooth decay, meaning there is a high level of bacteria in the mouth which can travel through the bloodstream. This is especially important if bleeding in the gums is noticed, because this is a sign of gum disease and can lead to heart disease.

Don’t ignore bad breath
Some people may look the other way if an elderly person has bad breath, but this could be a sign of something more severe. Tooth decay and gum disease will often cause bad breath due to the high level of bacteria. Bad breath may also mean that the individual is not properly brushing their teeth, flossing and using mouthwash to prevent these ailments.

It may be hard to approach a senior about their bad breath, but consider friendly, subtle hints. You can ask them what they ate for lunch that day, or subtly bring up the type of toothpaste they use. Bad breath could be an indicator of a smelly lunch, in which case it can be easily cured. Simply offer them a glass of water or a cup of tea.

Speaking of tea, it is great for oral health. Encourage seniors to drink green tea, which is noted for its high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols that are highly beneficial. Additionally, research in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation noted that drinking green tea can reduce the risk of heart disease.


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