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Oral Health Care for Seniors with Dementia

As we grow older, taking care of our teeth and gums becomes even more crucial. Just like we need to exercise and eat well to keep our bodies healthy, our mouths also need special attention, especially for seniors. Maintaining good oral health is essential for overall well-being as we age.


Many people may not realize that oral health is connected to our overall health. Poor dental hygiene can lead to various health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory infections. For seniors, these risks can be even more significant, making it vital to prioritize oral care.


senior with dementia being assisted with flossing teeth

Ensuring our teeth and gums are healthy can prevent pain, discomfort, and tooth loss. It also allows seniors to enjoy their favourite foods without any trouble and maintain a bright, confident smile. Taking care of our oral health is a simple yet powerful way to enhance our quality of life as we age.


According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, research suggests that there appears to be a link between poor oral health and dementia, but the exact nature of the relationship is still unknown. However, evidence shows that older adults living with dementia may:


  • Have more cavities than older adults without dementia.

  • They are less likely to visit an oral health professional compared to older adults without dementia.

  • Have difficulty chewing their food.

  • They may experience pain in the mouth, and they may be unable to communicate this issue to others.

  • Need assistance cleaning their dentures and dental implants.

  • Have generally poor denture hygiene.


Dry mouth is also more common among older adults with dementia than those without dementia, and those who are wearing dentures may have red and swollen gums more often than older adults without dementia.


Roadblocks

When older adults require the help of someone else, like a home care provider or caregiver, they may face barriers in receiving or accepting oral care. Older adults may:


  • Feel uncomfortable with the caregiver's technique of physical closeness

  • Feel some anxiety or fear, either because of past negative dental experiences or attitudes toward oral care

  • Not be able to afford dental treatment or to attend those appointments because of transportation issues physically

  • Have to rely on some caregivers who are hesitant to provide oral care because of a lack of skill, time or understanding of how important oral health really is

These barriers are even more challenging for older adults with dementia, who can show some resistance to necessary care. Good oral health is important throughout life for overall health and well-being.

Oral Health and Dementia

Poor oral hygiene can:

  • Increase the risk of developing respiratory infections like pneumonia

  • Makes it harder to control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes

  • Increase the risk of heart attack and stroke

  • Lower self-esteem reduced social interactions and lower quality of life

Oral health and dementia

  • Older adults with dementia have more cavities than those without dementia

  • Older adults with dementia are less likely to visit an oral health professional compared to older adults without dementia

  • Research suggests that there may be a link between poor oral health and dementia, but the exact nature of the relationship is still unknown

As dementia progresses, more support will be needed

  • Oral care is a complex task with many steps

  • As dementia progresses, oral care becomes more difficult to complete and the level of support needed increases.

Signs that more support may be needed

  • Does the toothbrush look like it is not being used

  • Has it been a while since the tube of toothpaste or container of floss has been replaced

  • Is there ongoing bad breath

  • Does the person have difficulty chewing food

  • As not all people can express pain, are there signs of dental pain, such as frowning or grimacing when chewing food or drinking hot and cold fluids

Supporting an Older Adult with Dementia

  • Recognize that assisting or directly providing oral care to an older adult living with dementia is not an easy task, and it may be uncomfortable.

  • Be prepared for some resistance when assisting or directly providing oral care. Here is further information on tips for communicating with a person with dementia.

  • Start by finding routines that are familiar to the older adult living with dementia and identify routines you are both comfortable with, such as brushing teeth together in the same place and at the same time of day.

  • As dementia progresses, some individuals may have trouble identifying their oral care tools. Consider labelling them in an easy way to identify (for example, by name, colours, or placing dental tools and supplies in familiar places).

  • Be prepared to provide reminders and prompts to help orient the older adult living with dementia to the completion of their oral care.

  • More tips for caregivers can be found at:


Brushing & Flossing Tips

Choosing the Right Toothbrush

When it comes to picking a toothbrush for older teeth and gums, it's essential to choose one with softer bristles. This helps prevent any irritation or damage to sensitive gums that can occur as we age.


The Gentle Art of Brushing

Brushing teeth gently but effectively is key for seniors. Using a soft touch and circular motions can help keep teeth clean without hurting the gums. Remember, it's not about scrubbing hard but about being thorough!


Flossing Can Be Fun - Even for Seniors!

Flossing is just as crucial as brushing, even for Grandpa and Grandma. It helps remove food particles and plaque between teeth that a toothbrush can't reach. For seniors who may have trouble with their hands, using floss picks or interdental brushes can make flossing easier.


Dental Care

As we get older, sometimes our memory can play tricks on us, especially if we have conditions like dementia or Alzheimer's disease. When this happens, it can be hard to remember to take care of our teeth and gums, which are super important for our overall health.


Helping Out With Daily Dental Habits

One way to support someone with memory issues when it comes to dental care is to help them remember to brush and floss every day. You can set reminders or create a routine that makes it easier for them to remember this essential part of their daily self-care.

Making Oral Care a Routine

Creating a daily routine that includes brushing and flossing can make it easier for someone with memory problems to remember to take care of their teeth. By doing these activities at the same time every day, it becomes a habit that they are more likely to remember.

Tools and Tips for Easier Care

There are special tools and products available that can help simplify oral care for seniors with memory issues. Electric toothbrushes, timer toothbrushes, or pre-threaded flossers are just a few examples of tools that can make the process easier and more manageable for someone who may struggle to remember on their own.


Partnering with an oral health professional

  • Try to book appointments with an oral health professional who is familiar with older adults living with dementia, especially in the later stages of the condition.

  • Inform the oral health professional of a dementia diagnosis, even in the early stages, so that informed and appropriate treatment decisions can be made.

  • Work with the oral health professional to identify strategies for better home support and care.


As we grow older, taking care of our teeth and gums becomes even more crucial. Just like how we eat healthy foods and exercise to keep our bodies strong, we must also remember to brush, floss, and visit the dentist regularly to maintain good oral health. By doing so, we can ensure that our smiles stay bright and our mouths stay happy well into our golden years.


Remember, a healthy mouth isn't just about having a pretty smile—it's also about staying healthy overall. Poor oral health has been linked to other health issues like heart disease and diabetes, so it's essential to prioritize your dental care as you age.

By following the tips in this guide, such as choosing the right toothbrush, brushing gently, establishing a routine, and eating tooth-friendly foods, you can set yourself up for a lifetime of healthy smiles. And if you or a loved one is dealing with memory issues like dementia, there are tools and strategies to help make oral care more manageable.


So, keep smiling, keep brushing, and keep visiting your dentist. Your future self will thank you for taking care of your oral health today!





 

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