Dental health for older people and why it’s important
How you can improve your oral health
It used to be almost a given that older people would end up with dentures at some point. But these days, thanks to better oral hygiene, many older people still have most of their natural teeth.
However, our teeth do deteriorate with age and poor oral health is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, including stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Here we look at why dental health is important and how can we improve our oral health as we age?
Why is dental health important?
Having a good set of teeth is about more than having a nice smile (although we all love that!). Poor oral health can negatively affect many areas of our life including our general health, social interactions and quality of life.
When we have severe tooth decay or gum disease, it can destroy the tissue in the mouth, leading to physical and psychological disability. Dental problems are common causes of speech impediments, which can affect us socially. It can also cause eating difficulties, which can compromise nutrition and lead to other health issues.
Poor oral health also puts us at risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, stroke and kidney diseases.
What causes poor oral health?
There are many factors that contribute to poor oral health. Some of these include consuming too much sugar, including sweet drinks. It can also be from drinking alcohol and smoking.
Some areas in Australia don’t have fluoride in their water supply. Many people also don’t have access to public or private dental care services.
Four population groups that are at risk of poor dental hygiene include:
- People who are socially disadvantaged or on low incomes
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
- People living in regional and remote areas
- People with additional and/or specialised health care needs, including those with mental health issues, disability or cognitive impairments like dementia
How to improve oral health?
Even if you have had problems with your teeth in the past, there are ways you can improve your oral health and prevent problems popping up in the future. Here are some suggestions.
Regular teeth brushing
Regular brushing with a fluoride toothbrush is the most effective and cheapest way to cleaning your teeth and help prevent tooth decay. Brush morning and night with a soft toothbrush on your gums, teeth and tongue with a pea size amount of toothpaste.
If you care for an older person, you may find it helpful to buy a different type of toothbrush, such as a soft toothbrush that is suitable for bending, electric toothbrush or one with an enlarged handle to make brushing easier.
Tooth decay is related to frequent sugar intake, so it’s important to reduce the amount of sugary food you eat. Try to replace biscuits, cakes and lollies with healthier alternatives like fruit, nuts and yoghurt (although be careful of nuts if you have dentures).
Also eat a wide variety of foods from the food pyramid – grains/cereals, vegetables, dairy and meat etc. Dairy foods, like yoghurt and cheese, can help reduce acid that causes tooth decay.
Drink lots of water
Instead of drinking sugary drinks or acidic juices, try to drink as much tap water as possible. Most places have fluoride in tap water, which can help strengthen teeth. Make sure you drink small and frequent sips to reduce dry mouth, particularly after taking medication.
Of course, if you’re on a special diet or have fluid intake restrictions, you must comply with the advice your doctor has given you.
Get regular dental check ups
It’s important that you see a dentist regularly to make sure they can monitor your teeth and spot any signs of decay or gum disease. If you’re on a Pensioner Concession Card or a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, you may be eligible for public dental care. Visit your state website to find out what is available in your area.
Do mouth exercises
It’s common to produce less saliva as you age, but one study found that simple mouth exercises can improve swallowing and saliva levels. You can massage the sides of your face using a circular motion to improve saliva flow. Then push air in your cheek and move the mouth from side to side to exercise your facial muscles.
Exercise your tongue by running it on the inside of your cheek and exercise your lip muscles by making ‘oo’ and ‘ee’ sounds.
If you or your loved one need some help with personal care, get in touch with us at Five Good Friends. We’d be happy to chat through how we can help you.