Oral Health for the Elderly: Understanding Oral Hygiene Procedures in Aged Care

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October 26, 2023
Oral Health

Maintaining good oral hygiene is important at any age, but it’s especially crucial for seniors. Poor oral health can lead to many problems, including gum disease, tooth decay, and even infection. And in the worst case, it can make it impossible for seniors to eat and speak properly.

That’s why it’s vital for caregivers and loved ones of elderly people to understand the basics of oral hygiene and help seniors with proper care. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the most common oral hygiene procedures in aged care facilities. We’ll also cover some tips for keeping teeth healthy as we age.

So, let’s begin!

The Importance of Oral Hygiene for the Elderly

It’s no secret that as we age, our risk for developing gum disease and other oral health problems increases. 

This is due to several factors, including changes in hormones, medications, and overall health. 

In addition, many seniors are unable to brush and floss their teeth properly due to physical limitations like arthritis or cognitive disorders like dementia.

That’s why it’s so important for seniors to include dental care and oral hygiene as a major aspect of their considered approach to aged care. 

Good oral hygiene can help prevent several common problems, including:

  • Gum disease: This is a serious infection of the gums that can lead to tooth loss. Research has shown that about 68% of seniors above the age of 65 have gum disease.
  • Tooth decay: This happens when plaque and tartar build up on teeth and create cavities. Studies have shown that roughly 96% of all adults aged 65 or older have had a previous history of a cavity, while 1 in 5 suffers from untreated tooth decay. 
  • Bad breath: This can be caused by a number of things, including untreated gum disease, poor oral hygiene, and tooth decay. Additionally, a dry mouth can also lead to bad breath and is especially common in seniors who take medications (many of which lead to decreased saliva production) for chronic conditions.
  • Difficulty eating: If teeth are not cared for properly, they can become loose and fall out. This can make it difficult to eat solid food properly and maintain adequate nutrition.
  • Difficulty speaking: Seniors who have trouble with their teeth may have difficulty speaking clearly.

The Basic Oral Hygiene Procedures in Aged Care

There are a few basic oral hygiene procedures that should be performed daily in order to keep teeth healthy. These include:

  • Brushing: This should be done with a high fluoride toothpaste (5000 ppm) at least twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush that is gentle on the gums and comfortable for seniors. Electric toothbrushes can also be used as alternatives for individuals with limited manual dexterity.
  • Flossing: This helps remove tartar and plaque between the teeth and should be done at least once a day. For individuals with arthritis or other physical limitations, hand-held flosser tools should be used.
  • Mouth rinsing: Regularly rinsing the mouth with an antibacterial and alcohol-free mouthwash after brushing and flossing helps get rid of any plaque or tartar left behind.
  • Denture cleaning: If a senior wears dentures, they should be properly cleaned/brushed daily and stored in a safe place when not in use to prevent the development of fungal infections. 
  • Daily antibacterial gel application to prevent gingivitis: There are many antibacterial oral products and gels that can be used safely and effectively to prevent gingivitis (gum infection). These products usually contain chlorhexidine, an antiseptic that helps control plaque and gingivitis. Just be sure to use a low strength (0.12%) chlorhexidine product with no alcohol content (which can lead to dry mouth and damage) once a day.

In addition to these basic oral hygiene procedures, it’s also important for seniors to see a dentist regularly. Most experts recommend that seniors see a dentist at least once a year for a cleaning and check-up. 

During these appointments, the dentist will clean the teeth, reverse cavities, and check for any current oral health problems. They may also take X-rays to check for other potential dental issues that are likely to develop further down the line.

The Takeaway: Receiving Dental Care in Aged Care

While every senior care provider should ensure proper oral hygiene services to its residents, it’s always a good idea to make sure you mention your specific oral care requirements in your care plan with the aged care provider.

Let your caregivers know that oral health is extremely important to you and that it has to be a regular and integral part of your routine.

You should also make sure that you visit an experienced and certified private dentist at least once a year for a professional cleaning and check-up. 

But if your mobility or other problems get in your way, mobile dentists are also a great alternative to obtain regular dental health checkups and care. They’re able to provide many of the same services you’d receive at a normal clinic and also take the pressure off of caregivers.

So, what’s your take on oral health in aged care? Have you had any experiences — good or bad — with dental care while living in an aged care facility? Do you have any tips or advice to share with other readers? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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