According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by the year 2060, in the United States, 24% or 98 million people will be aged 65 or older. As the population of the elderly increases, more and more people are finding themselves in a compromised situation when caring for their oral health. In this article, I would like to share with you why oral care is important for the elderly and other dependent people and why having dirty teeth can be deadly.
The majority of the residents in a nursing home or long term care facility are elderly but some are also younger with physical or mental disabilities. According to statistics on nursing homes in the U.S., the residents usually are those who, for medical reasons, are not able to live on their own but who do not need to stay in a hospital. It is crucial for this group of people, more than any other, to receive good oral care. Read on and I will explain why.
What’s Wrong With A Dirty Mouth?
America’s leading advocate for oral health is the American Dental Association (ADA). According to the ADA, statistics show the growing population of older adults and the lack of adequate care for their oral health. The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics predict In 2030, 20% or 1 in 5 Americans will be age 65 or older. This is an increase from 16.67% or 1 in 6 Americans in 2020. This is a growing proportion of all patients needing dental care and statistics show that more and more elderly people are maintaining their teeth into old age versus having to wear dentures.
Not only is the accumulation of plaque causing oral conditions like gingivitis (red, swollen gums), cavities and bad breath, It may also be causing lots of other problems that cannot be seen just by looking in the mouth. When older adults have poor oral hygiene, one of the main concerns is the connection between the bacteria in the mouth causing other health issues as the bacteria travels throughout the body. There is an increased risk for bacterial pneumonia. This can happen just by breathing in (aspirating) as bacteria travels from the mouth to the lungs!
Heart disease is another concern for the elderly or compromised person (dependent) who has a dirty mouth. Having plaque and bacteria in the mouth leads to inflammation of the gums called gum disease. Another name for gum disease is periodontal disease. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, more than 2 out of every 3 elderly people have gum disease (70%). The bacteria responsible for heart disease have been shown to be correlated with the bacteria responsible for gum disease.
Other Health Concerns
Studies have shown the connection between oral health and how it relates to other systemic health conditions such as diabetes. A study published in the National Institute of Health named “Poor Oral Health and Quality of Life in U.S. Older Adults with Diabetes” looked at the connection of diabetes as it relates to the oral health of the aging. It found that people 65 and older who have diabetes have poorer oral health and subsequently a poorer quality of life.
A publication from FDI (World Dental Federation) states “Oral health and general health are closely linked. Oral health can be compromised by a number of chronic and infectious diseases that have oral symptoms. On the other hand, oral diseases can lead to infection, inflammation, and other serious impacts on overall health. Connections between poor oral health and other major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, and obesity are undisputed.”
Recent research reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that there is an association between the bacteria that cause gum disease and the development of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Oral Care is Important For the Elderly, but Not Just the Elderly…
There are also residents in long term care facilities who are not elderly. These residents may include those in memory care facilities and assisted living communities. Oral care is extremely important for these people as well as the elderly. If proper care is given to these residents, they can see improvements in their oral health. This directly correlates to preserving their teeth with less cavities, gum disease and inflammation. Another way this improves overall health and well-being is by improved nutrition achieved by continued enjoyment of food.
What Can You Do?
Do you have a loved one in a nursing home or long term care facility who can benefit from improved oral health? If so, please make an effort to do all you can to connect them to caregivers who can provide the proper care. You can check with the facility to see if mobile dentistry can be provided to its residents. With mobile dentistry, dentists and dental hygienists come directly to the facility to provide the necessary care. This includes exams, dental cleanings and treatment for oral conditions.
If professional care is not an option for your loved one, there are others things you can do to help. Simply providing the nursing staff with the proper tools to facilitate better plaque control will go a long way in reducing the amount of detrimental bacteria in their mouths.
The single most important tool you can provide their caregivers with is an electric toothbrush. With the use of an electric toothbrush, bacterial plaque can be reduced substantially. An electric toothbrush will provide your loved one with up to 50,000 brush strokes per minute versus the mere 500 brush strokes per minute that a manual toothbrush provides. That is a huge difference!
Dentures are very common for the elderly and those people in long term care facilities. You may think that it is not necessary to clean dentures…think again! Dentures and removable partial dentures harbor billions of bacteria. These are the same bacteria that may be responsible for the systemic health conditions previously mentioned. Some of these conditions can include aspiration pneumonia, heart disease, strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s and even arthritis. Cleaning your loved one’s dentures and partials in a portable ultrasonic denture cleaner can significantly reduce the bacteria they harbor.
More Great Options…
Cleaning between the teeth is an absolute must! Often, due to medications, the elderly and those in long term care facilities have reduced saliva flow and experience dry mouth. This can be a significant problem because saliva is the self-cleaning mechanism for our mouth. Low saliva volume causes more decay and more food to be lodged in between and around the teeth. Floss can be used, but it may be easier to use a tool called a proxabrush. This is a small hand held brush that you can easily learn to use to slip in between the teeth to dislodge bacterial plaque and decay causing food debris.
Another great option would be to use a Waterpik. This is a water spraying tool that can also dislodge material from in between and around the teeth. Clinical studies have shown that a Waterpik is twice as effective at cleaning between the teeth as floss is. Using a Waterpik may be challenging for those who are bed ridden and is best used over a sink to allow the extra water to flow into. There are portable Waterpik devices that may make their use more convenient.
A device called an Air Flosser can be very beneficial as well. This eliminates the mess of an oral water irrigator and replaces it with a small puff of forced air directed between the teeth. Using an Air Flosser can effectively dislodge stubborn debris from between the teeth. To help improve saliva flow for those suffering from dry mouth, all natural lozeng called Xylimelts can easily be adhered to the inside of the mouth to provide up to 8 hours of relief from dry mouth. Xylimelts contain xylitol which is found in many chewing gums and can also be beneficial in preventing cavities.
Invest In Their Oral Health-Dirty Teeth Are Deadly
One day, I attended a seminar that forever changed my view on the importance of my career. You see, I have been practicing dental hygiene in a clinical setting (dental office) for many years. I have always been aware of the need for improved oral care for the elderly and those who are unable to care for themselves. After leaving this seminar, I was inspired and I knew I wanted to make a difference in the health and longevity of elderly patients and those living in a long term care facilities. I became passionate about helping these people maintain oral health and improve their overall health since it is hard for them to do so on their own.
I invite you to become passionate about helping to improve your loved one’s oral health as well. Please check with their providers to see if professional care is an option. If this is not practical, please invest in the proper home care products to help their caregivers provide oral care. Nursing staff are sometimes overwhelmed with the responsibilities they have when caring for residents. In this case, you should invest in the proper tools to help your loved one when you come to visit them. At the very least, you should help them brush with an electric toothbrush whenever you can. Follow up with the proper tools to clean between their teeth such as floss, proxabrushes, a Waterpik or an Air Flosser.
I encourage you to do all you can to help keep your loved one’s mouth clean. Their overall health and livelihood depends on it more than you may realize. Please leave any questions or comments below and I would be more than happy to help you to help those you care about.
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