The link between oral health and overall well-being has been clearly established. This is important to keep in mind for people of all ages, but especially for older adults. We become more susceptible to various oral and dental problems as we age, and maintaining appropriate hygiene practices like regular brushing and flossing is a crucial component to staying healthy.
Many adults tend to put their oral health on the back burner, especially as they continue to age. However, this makes it all the more important to continue to encourage this population to take the time to take care of themselves and their oral health.
Potential Health Issues
A lack of attention to oral health can undoubtedly lead to problems focused on the mouth and teeth, but it can also have ramifications for more widespread disease throughout the body. Maintaining good oral health will benefit the teeth and mouth and prevent or reduce the impact of other systemic conditions.
Significant reasons to focus on oral hygiene maintenance include tooth decay, tooth loss, gum disease, heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia, and oral cancer. When oral hygiene is neglected, it is not only the health of the teeth and gums that suffer. For instance, the risk of getting pneumonia increases with poor oral hygiene.
Since air must pass through the mouth to get to the lungs, a more significant amount of bacteria in the mouth increases the odds that those bacteria enter the lungs and cause an infection. Regular brushing and flossing can help reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth and thus reduce the chances that harmful bacteria enter the lungs and cause disease.
Improvement of Care
Given the potential ramifications of a lack of quality dental care for seniors, putting a heavy emphasis on outreach efforts and improved care for this population is vital for any dental practice.
One of the major obstacles seniors face regarding receiving regular dental care is not having a dental office that they are familiar with and comfortable with. Regular visits to the dentist are essential, especially for older adults.
According to data from the National Institutes of Health, approximately one in five adults have cavities that they are not even aware of. Additionally, seniors are more likely to be retired and therefore receive their dental insurance from a subsidized service like Medicaid. This adds another element to the difficulty of finding an appropriate dental office, as the provider should be covered by insurance and be affordable for the patient.
To make finding affordable dental care easy for the seniors who need it, TeethWisdom.org provides a Find Care tool. The TeethWisdom.org website was a project created by Oral Health America to provide seniors and caregivers with information about oral health as well as to connect seniors with affordable dental care options.
To find potential dental providers, patients can go to the website and select the area they live in. The search results will include links to local organizations and providers that can deliver the appropriate care. Then, seniors can gain access to the dental care they need. As dental professionals, you can contact this project to provide information about your clinic or services.
Another step that can be taken toward improving dental care for seniors is expanding outreach efforts to their caretakers. Of course, direct communication with patients is vital. But taking the time to remind caretakers of the importance of maintaining good dental hygiene can make outreach efforts even more effective.
Simple suggestions, such as drinking fluoridated tap water to help prevent tooth decay, cleaning dentures regularly, and using an electric toothbrush if possible are easy to remember, and reminding caretakers of these things can help extend the impact of dental care beyond the time that patients are physically at the office.
Since caretakers are with seniors regularly, they can remind them of these simple steps more often and significantly impact their dental and oral health.
Individuals of all ages often neglect oral and dental care. While they should be more of a priority for everyone, this is especially true for older adults. Individuals in this age group are more susceptible to many health issues, including ones relating to poor oral and dental health.
Common dental and oral issues such as tooth decay, tooth loss, and gum disease are included among these health issues, but more systemic problems like heart disease and pneumonia are as well. Preventing these serious systemic diseases is crucial for focusing on oral hygiene.
While everyday caregivers for seniors can help ensure that proper oral hygiene habits are maintained, dental professionals can take this one step further by putting increased effort into reaching out to this population and improving their regular dental care.