Wellness Tips | 23 April, 2020

Oral Health tips for older Australians

Getting old is just a part of life, and your oral health is as important regardless of your age. Oral health is directly linked to your overall well-being, but maintaining this sometimes become more difficult later in life. Side effects of ageing, like cognitive impairment and functional limitations, begin to affect our ability to maintain oral health as we get older.

Despite our ageing population, more and more elderly people are keeping their natural teeth. Whilst this may be a sign they are caring for their teeth effectively, it also means they have an increased chance of periodontal disease, tooth decay, and other oral health issues.

Oral disease is a considerable problem for the elderly that can impact their general health and daily living activities in the following ways:

  • General Health
    • Poor oral health can complicate the management of other health issues an individual is facing.
    • Dental issues can affect the ability to speak and chew. This can then lead to a lack of nutrition and decrease in body weight due to loss of appetite and discomfort when chewing.
  • Daily Activities
    • Pain or discomfort in the mouth can lead to mood and behaviour problems. This is of great concern for people with cognitive impairment (dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.)
    • Socialisation can also be impacted by bad breath, speech difficulties, and concerns about their appearance (self-esteem).
    • Poor oral health can also impact sleep patterns.

Managing the Oral Health of the Elderly.

So, what can we do to help manage our health when we get older, or manage the oral health of an elderly person you may be caring for? Eating well, drinking well, and keeping a good oral health routine are the basic steps needed to maintain oral health for older people.

Eating Well

Nutrition is important for everyone and having a balanced diet improves your overall health as well as your oral health. For older people, it is recommended that sticky and sugary food intake is reduced. Sugar increases the chances of tooth decay, so by reducing the frequency that we consume foods containing sugar we can reduce this risk. Eating meals and snacks that contain dairy is also a great way to decrease the acid build up in the mouth and reduce the risk of tooth decay. Care should also be taken with harder foods (such as nuts) to avoid any damage to dentures.

Drinking Well

The elderly can be susceptible to dry mouth because of certain medications and reduced saliva production. Saliva works to neutralise acids and helps prevent the progression of dental decay. Dry mouth syndrome can impact the ability to speak, taste, chew, and swallow as well as leading to a higher rate of decay. Frequently sipping water is a great way to keep the mouth wet and reduce the effects of dry mouth.

Drinking water after meals and snacks is also a great way to reduce any acid and bacteria build up in the mouth. Drinking water after medications will also reduce the incidence of dry mouth symptoms.

Tap water with fluoride is recommended as it helps to strengthen the teeth and reduce acid build up. Reducing the intake of sugary drinks such as juices and cordials will reduce the risk of tooth decay, as will reducing the intake of caffeine.

If dry mouth symptoms persist or intensify, consultation with a medical professional is advised.

Oral Health Care

Whether you have natural teeth, dentures, or no teeth it’s still important to maintain your oral health routine throughout the later years of life. Using a soft toothbrush, you should be aiming to brush at least twice a day. Brushing twice daily removes plaque build-up and bacteria from the mouth, reducing infection, decay, and the chances of oral disease. If you have no teeth, it’s still important to brush the gums and tongue to remove bacteria and reduce the chances of oral health disease.

Brushing your dentures will prevent the build-up of bacteria and fungi such as Candida albicans (Oral Thrush). Be careful when cleaning your dentures as scratches and chips can cause irritation and increase the chance of oral infection.

As we get older it’s also important to perform regular mouth checks to search for any indicators of oral disease. You, or someone close to you, should perform a check for the following indicators:

  • Lips: Dryness, cracks, lumps, or swelling
  • Tongue: Patchiness, white coating, redness or swelling
  • Gums: ulcers, sores, swelling, bleeding
  • Teeth: cracks; decay (black or brown colouring); broken fillings etc, exposed roots, sensitivity
  • Dentures: Cracks, breaks, cleanliness, worn down areas, bent or broken wires
  • Mouth: Bad Breath, dry mouth, pain, difficulty eating, speaking, swallowing
  • Saliva: thick, stringy, sticky, frothy, bubbly

If any irregularities are found in the mouth, it is a good idea to consult with a dental health professional about the possible causes.