Maintaining good oral hygiene
What You Need to Know as a Caregiver
You may be surprised to learn that preventing cavities is just one of the reasons for practicing good dental hygiene. Maintaining good oral health is vital to the overall health of the person in your care.Our mouths can harbor bacteria that can negatively affect other parts of the body or cause serious illness if not treated properly and regularly. As a caregiver, it may be up to you to ensure that the person in your care doesn’t neglect their oral care.
Oral hygiene tips
So many factors can affect a person’s ability to maintain the proper dental hygiene for good oral health. The person in need of care may have arthritis in their hands, preventing them from using a toothbrush or dental floss properly.
They may be unable to drive or take public transit to dental appointments. Not wanting to leave the comforts of home (or being unable to leave home due to illness) may cause some people to neglect their personal hygiene.
Or, they may simply think that brushing their teeth (which is just one aspect of good oral hygiene) is no longer a priority because they wear dentures.
Here are some tips that you, the caregiver, can use to help the person in your care keep their mouth in good health.
- Make regular dental appointments even if the person in your care wears dentures. A dental health professional assesses the state of the whole mouth area including gums, throat, and tongue, not just the teeth.
- Brush their teeth twice daily. Try a battery-powered toothbrush if the person in your care has a hard time using a manual toothbrush or help them by holding the toothbrush yourself. Always use a toothbrush with soft bristles to avoid damaging the gums.
- Make sure they floss (or use a floss pick) after brushing their teeth.
- Monitor their intake of starchy and/or sugary snacks and drinksto lessen the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Don’t forget to have them brush their teeth shortly after the snack and especially before bed.
Oral hygiene is an important aspect of a person’s overall health. Did you know that bad oral hygiene can affect several illnesses or diseases, particularly in seniors?
Here are just a few ways poor oral hygiene can affect their health:
Research has shown that poor oral health may be a risk factor in a person developing pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection that causes one or both lungs to become inflamed, leading to symptoms such as cough with mucus (or phlegm), plus fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. People who are susceptible to developing pneumonia are infants and young children, as well as older adults over the age of 65. Good oral hygiene can help prevent bacteria found in the mouth and throat from being breathed into the lungs.
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of severe gum disease which in advanced cases, can lead to pain, abscess, and loosening or even loss of teeth. You can help the person in your care keep gum disease at bay by promoting good dental hygiene, regular visits to the dentist or dental hygienist, and keeping the diabetes under control through diet and following their diabetes management plan.
You may have heard for years that bacteria in the mouth can lead to cardiovascular issues. While some researchers and scientists say that the link between poor oral health and heart disease is still circumstantial, they do know that inflammation can cause arteries to harden, putting an individual at greater risk for a heart attack or inflamed gums are a sign of gum disease, which has two main types: gingivitis, which causes redness and pain in the gums, and periodontitis, which can lead to gums infected with pus. Periodontitis is a concern for heart disease because the inflammation allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream more easily, causing damage to blood vessels throughout the body including the ones that lead to the heart.
According to the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, oral cancer is among the most common and fastest growing types of cancer affecting Canadians today. While not necessarily triggered by poor oral hygiene, the practice of good oral hygiene coupled with regular visits to a dental health professional, can help you, the caregiver, and the person in need of care spot these common signs of oral cancer:
- Red or white lesions in the mouth or lips
- Mouth sores that bleed or do not heal within two weeks
- Swollen tissues or sores in and around the mouth or throat
- Pain or difficulty eating, speaking, moving the jaw or tongue (or swallowing)
- Lingering sore throat or hoarseness
Consult with your dentist about how often the person in your care should receive a professional cleaning, as some conditions require more frequent visits to the dental office.
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Dental Hygiene For Seniors
The process of aging certainly poses several challenges to the health of senior citizens for which sufficient attention and care is necessary. Besides physical and mental ailments, there are substantial issues in the context of their teeth and gums which need to be addressed. Therefore, dental hygiene plays a crucial role in maintaining the oral health and overall well-being of elders.
Aging puts older people at risk for several oral problems. But these problems may not be attributed to the aging factor alone. The prevalence of co-morbid conditions like Arthritis or Dementia is likely to affect the dexterity of the hands and teeth. That makes brushing and flossing very tedious for such patients leading to bad teeth. Additionally, certain medications may cause side-effects and dental problems which necessitate treatment.
More often, there is a quick build-up of plaque on the teeth of elders, especially if oral hygiene is compromised or neglected. Some of the frequently encountered elderly dental problems are enlisted below-
- Darkening of the teeth due to enamel damage
- Dryness in the mouth caused by decreased saliva flow
- Tooth decay and pain
- Bleeding and disease of the gums
- Diminished sense of taste
- Loss of tooth
- Stomatitis induced by artificial dentures due to inflammation of underlying tissue
- Unevenness in the bones of the jaws
- Thrush caused by fungal growth in the mouth
- Oral Cancer
Besides these, poor oral health is also said to cause pneumonia, heart ailments and diabetes in elders.
Tips to Improve Senior Dental Care
- Brush your teeth twice daily with a toothpaste containing fluoride
- Do flossing at least once a day
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash to reduce bacterial infections that cause gum disease and plaque
- Replace the toothbrush as soon as the bristles are spoiled or every three or four months
- Quit bad health habits like smoking
- Visit the dentist periodically to undergo oral examination and dental cleaning. During these visits, the dentist checks the teeth for decays, cavities and broken fillings, monitors the gum health and may do an oral cancer screening test.
- Seniors using dentures must clean them daily with cleaners specifically meant for that purpose. The dentures must also be removed for about four hours a day to maintaining good gum health.
- Those elders who have physical limitations for brushing and flossing can use oral appliances recommended by dentists like electric toothbrushes, special bristle patterns, inter-dental cleaners and floss holders to clean their teeth effectively.
- Some best food for seniors for good dental health should include a well-balanced diet that has wholegrain foods, vegetables and fruits with high fibrous content, proteins and dairy products.
There are also some useful senior diet tips for ensuring good oral health:
- Limiting the intake of foods and beverages that contain sugar like processed items, sweets, carbonated soft drinks and artificial juices.
- Increasing the intake of calcium in your diet to increase the strength of bones and teeth.
- Remaining hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of clear fluids if you are suffering from dry mouth. Also, avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol that aggravates these symptoms!
Many seniors also happen to suffer from low self-esteem, mouth pain and malnutrition due to oral health issues. Services can help elders in establishing and maintaining a regular oral care routine to overcome this. It assists them in using proper brushing techniques and oral hygiene aids, maintaining dentures and accompanying them to dentist consultations.
So don’t compromise on dental health because it not only improves personal hygiene
but ensures whole-body health in the golden years!