Encouraging Dental Health & Dental Hygiene in Senior Care

Dental health is a critical part of senior care.

Many seniors may neglect their teeth, but this can lead to many other health problems down the road. Here’s why offering dentistry services to your residents can make a world of difference.

As seniors age, their dental health declines for several reasons. They may not be able to brush and floss as effectively, may have trouble reaching their back teeth, or may have chronic dry mouth.

However, poor oral hygiene can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and infections. In addition, research has linked poor oral health to several other health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.

For these reasons, it is important to encourage dental health and dental hygiene in senior care. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure good dental care for elderly residents – and make a big difference in their quality of life.

What Oral Health Conditions Affect the Aging Population?

According to the CDC, the most common elderly dental problems are:

  • Untreated tooth decay. Almost every adult over 65 has at least one cavity, and 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay.
  • Gum disease. Many adults over 65—about 68%—have gum disease.
  • Tooth loss. Nearly 26% of adults over 75 have lost all their teeth. Missing teeth and dentures can affect nutrition. People with no teeth are more likely to eat only soft foods and avoid nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Oral cancer. Cancers of the mouth are primarily diagnosed in older adults. Regular dental care can help spot issues early.
  • Chronic disease. People with chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease are more likely to develop gum disease and less likely to get dental care than adults without chronic conditions.
  • Dry mouth. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause dry mouth. Reduced saliva flow increases the risk of cavities.

6 Ways to Encourage Dental Hygiene in Senior Care Facilities

1. Regularly Scheduled Professional Cleanings and Check-Ups for Senior Dental Hygiene

An older woman with white hair, wearing a blue and white striped shirt, sits in a dentist chair and holds a mirror up to her face, smiling and admiring her teeth.Regular appointments will help to prevent problems before they start but getting residents to dentist appointments can be challenging. Consider partnering with a mobile dentist or an on-site dentist to ensure residents have optimal health and dental hygiene. Check your local area for mobile dentistry services that offer teeth cleaning and other services at your location.

If that isn’t possible, find a dental office inside a mall or next to a park and schedule a half-day event with multiple patients where residents can be entertained while waiting for their appointments. Shopping or being outside will also help lower the stress some people feel about seeing a dentist.

2. Encourage Seniors to Brush and Floss Daily

It may seem obvious, but seniors may need help even with routine tasks and personal hygiene. Providing them with the necessary tools (such as a soft-bristle or electric toothbrush, water flosser or dental floss, and mouthwash) can go a long way toward promoting good oral health. For seniors who need help bathing and dressing, daily brushing and flossing should be part of your staff’s care routine.

The American Dental Association recommends an electric toothbrush for older adults because they require less manual manipulation.

3. Educate Your Residents

One way to educate your residents on the importance of dental hygiene for seniors is by hosting educational seminars at your senior center or assisted living facility. You can also distribute educational materials such as pamphlets. Stress how important dental hygiene is to long-term health and how poor dental hygiene habits can result in significant health decline.

4. Serve Smile-Friendly Food

An older lady with white hair, wearing a plain white shirt, holds a fork with a single bite of food up to her mouth.Foods high in sugar or acid can damage tooth enamel, so it’s best to keep them to a minimum. Instead, focus your menu on a dental-healthy diet featuring plenty of low-acidity fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat meats.

Here’s what your seniors should eat and what they should avoid.

High-fiber fruits and vegetables: High-fiber foods help keep teeth and gums healthy by cleaning teeth naturally and boosting saliva flow.

Dairy products: The calcium and phosphates in milk, cheese, and other dairy products, help repair minerals loss in teeth and rebuild tooth enamel. They also boost saliva flow.

Green and black teas: Tea contains polyphenols that kill bacteria and prevent it from growing. Various types of teas have other health benefits as well, including:

  • Boost the immune system (black tea)
  • Boost heart health, lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol (green tea)
  • Soothe nausea (peppermint tea)
  • Improve sleep (chamomile)
  • Relieve osteoarthritis joint pain (ginger)
  • Reduce anxiety and increase alertness (oolong)

Encourage your residents to drink plenty of water—it’s good for dental health as well as overall health.

Foods to Avoid for Better Senior Hygiene:

Anything that sticks to teeth, works its way into gum pockets, or gets trapped between teeth should be kept to a minimum.

Sticky, sugary foods: It’s hard to deny a sweet tooth, but the sticky, hard candies, caramel, and cough drops popular with older folks are terrible for teeth, along with baked goods like cookies, brownies, and cake.

Look for dessert choices that satisfy your residents’ sweet tooth without causing dental problems, like chocolate, pudding, and applesauce.

Starchy foods: Foods like bread, potato chips, and french fries can get stuck or crushed into cavities, between teeth, or inside the gums.

5. Dentures and Dental Appliances

An older man sits with his dentist. The detist is holding a set of dentures and blue medical gloves, pointing at the detures and speaking to the older man.Many of your residents will have dentures or partials. These need to be cleaned daily to prevent plaque build-up. They need the same level of care as natural teeth to avoid gum disease and infection. Provide residents with the necessary cleaning products and make denture care part of their evening routine.

6. Fight Against Dry mouth

Due to medications, seniors often suffer from dry mouth, and saliva is the most potent weapon against elderly dental problems. Saliva helps reduce the acids and enzymes that erode enamel. Fluoride gel toothpaste can help, and you should check with your residents’ dental care provider for other solutions.

Dry mouth is more than a simple thirst, and can lead to complications such as mucositis, caries, cracked lips, and fissured tongue. The ADA recommends drinking or at least sipping water all day and limiting alcohol and beverages high in sugar or caffeine, including juices, sodas, and sugary tea and coffee.

Good dental hygiene is essential at any age, but it becomes even more crucial as we age. Seniors are more susceptible to gum disease and tooth decay, which can lead to a host of other health problems. These simple steps can help your senior care facility promote dental health and hygiene and keep your residents healthy and smiling.

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