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.
Bad oral hygiene could lead to several illnesses or diseases, particularly in older adults and seniors.
Our mouths can harbour 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.
Caregiver tips for good oral care
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 drinks to 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.
You might also like our Elizz article on Supporting Good Health in Seniors.
Caring for dentures
Did you know that plaque and tartar can also build up on dentures just as they do on real teeth?
If the person in your care wears dentures, make sure that they are practicing good oral hygiene by using a soft toothbrush to clean their dentures and massage their gums every day.
At night, have them soak their dentures in a denture cleaning solution or a mixture of equal parts warm water and vinegar. If the person in your care has dentures with metal clasps, soak them only in warm water, not vinegar.
If you notice that the person in your care isn’t eating as much as they used to or is having difficulty eating, it may be that their dentures don’t fit properly or have become loose. Improperly fitting dentures can affect a person’s food intake, which may deprive them of valuable nutrients they need daily.
Conditions that are affected by poor oral health
Did you know that bad oral hygiene could lead to several illnesses or diseases, particularly in older adults and seniors?
Here are just a few illnesses that could be caused by poor oral hygiene:
Research from Yale University School of Medicine 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 stroke. 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
You should consult with the 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.
At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you. Elizz is a Canadian company powered by Saint Elizabeth, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.
For more information on good oral hygiene, visit the Canadian Dental Associations’ page on Dental Hygiene Tips for Caregivers.