Oral Health Tips for Seniors

Oral Health Tips for Seniors

Oral Health Tips

More than one in five Australian adults aged over 65 have no teeth1, with most of this tooth loss caused by tooth decay and advanced gum disease. The aging population is growing in size rapidly and with the improvements that have occurred in oral health since the mid 20th century we will see a trend towards more older adults keeping their natural teeth in the next few decades. They will require ongoing dental care to protect their teeth from oral diseases.

So, it’s especially important to be aware of conditions associated with ageing that can impact oral health, given a healthy mouth is an important part of general health.

The health of our mouth is integrally linked with our overall health and there are simple steps to ensure problems associated with ageing are reduced.

Oral health screening, referral and preventive advice is very often not included in general health checks, discussions and patient education and it’s time to address that disconnect given the impact poor oral health can have on a healthy lifestyle and self esteem.

 

Taking a Closer Look…

The two main diseases of oral health are tooth decay and gum disease. Both of these may cause tooth loss in older adults. Tooth loss may affect speech, nutrition and quality of life.

Tooth decay can occur at any stage of life. This is caused by frequently eating sugary foods and drinks. However tooth decay can be stopped, reversed and prevented. Reducing the amount and frequency of sugary foods can prevent tooth decay and brushing with fluoride toothpaste can reverse early signs of tooth decay.

Gum disease is very common, with mild forms affecting up to 20% of the population2. It is caused by a build-up of plaque, which is a sticky colourless film of bacteria that builds up on the gumline and between the teeth.  If it is not brushed off the bacteria irritate the gums and cause inflammation.

Many adults suffer from a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. This may lead to tooth loss if not reversed. Recently, periodontitis has been found to have a number of overall health consequences being linked to a number of systemic conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lung disease and kidney disease.

 

Did You Know…?

  • More than one in five Australian adults aged over 65 have no teeth; most of this tooth loss is caused by tooth decay and advanced gum disease. However in the next few decades more people will maintain their teeth
  • Dry mouth (reduction in protective saliva production) is often caused by prescription and over-the-counter medications. It contributes to significant tooth decay and gum disease.
  • 22% of the Australian adult population suffer with moderate to severe periodontitis which has implications for general health3

 

Importance of good oral hygiene and how to prevent gum disease:

Suggestions:

  • Brush your teeth and gums twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and ask your dentist or oral health professional if you are unsure of the best brushing technique
  • Quit smoking
  • Some medications can cause problems with the mouth.  Check with your doctor, pharmacist or dental professional about how to manage this.
  • Sipping water and chewing sugar free gum may help manage dry mouth
  • Use dental floss to clean in between your teeth
  • Go for regular dental check-ups, especially if you have diabetes as this can increase your risk of gum disease
  • Getting treatment early can help save teeth that are at risk from gum disease and other conditions – see your dentist or oral health professional urgently if you have swollen or bleeding gums

 

1Oral health and general health in Australia, The Great Disconnect, OHAP Report, 2015
2AIHW. (2007) Australia’s dental generations. The National survey of adult oral health 2004-2006. DEN 165.
3AIHW. (2007) Australia’s dental generations. The National survey of adult oral health 2004-2006. DEN 165.

 

As featured in Aged Care Insite Magazine – August 2017

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Christine Morris
Christine Morris

Founding member, Oral Health Advisory Panel Health, Promotion Consultant, Dental Service, Govt of South Australia

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