April is National Oral Health Month in Canada, when organizations such as the Canadian Association of Public Health Dentistry raise awareness about the importance of keeping your teeth, gums, tongue, and mouth as bacteria-free as possible to protect your overall well-being.
It’s especially essential for older adults to maintain optimum oral health. Older people become more susceptible to oral health problems and other critical health concerns as their teeth naturally change as they age. If your loved one has also been diagnosed with Alzheier’s disease or dementia, they may need your help protecting their oral health, especially in the latter stage of the condition.
What changes do older people see in their teeth?
Darker or discoloured teeth
The colour of teeth changes over time from consuming food or beverages that can leave stains or plaque buildup, which happens more frequently as we get older
Increased risk of cavities
Teeth are more prone to cavities due to bacteria attacking tooth roots exposed by receding gums, which can occur more frequently later in life
Over time, teeth tend to be more sensitive to hot or cold foods or touch
The increased risk of severe health conditions that can result from poor oral hygiene makes taking care of our teeth and gums even more critical as we age.
How good oral health can prevent disease
Taking care of our oral hygiene will lead to healthy teeth and gums that contribute to a beautiful smile. However, it can also prevent adverse health conditions, such as:
Lung infections, including pneumonia
Lung infections that are dangerous to older people can be caused by inhaling harmful types of mouth bacteria that can accumulate if proper oral maintenance is neglected
Mouth infections, including periodontal disease
This condition can damage the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place, leading to pain, problems chewing, and tooth loss, and making it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels
Heart attack and stroke
Poor oral hygiene can increase the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth, which can find their way into the bloodstream and damage heart tissue
Someone experiencing oral health problems, such as pain or difficulty chewing, might refrain from eating, leading to unwanted weight loss, a lack of energy, and a compromised immune system
Mental health issues can arise from someone isolating themselves from friends and family due to poor oral health
Helping an older person with dementia maintain good oral health
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are progressive cognitive conditions that impact brain function, including memory. Someone diagnosed with dementia might forget to brush their teeth or not remember why oral care is essential. Family caregivers need to stay on top of their loved one’s oral hygiene to help protect their overall well-being.
Here are some tips on helping your loved one keep a healthy smile:
During the early stages of dementia, provide gentle reminders for the older adult to brush and floss their teeth. It’s best to always be patient and have a sense of humour to get a positive reaction and minimize resistance.
Provide short, step-by-step instructions when necessary
As the person moves into mid or late-stage dementia, the steps of how to brush their teeth may become difficult for them. You may notice them stand by the sink and look confused or even agitated. Try standing beside them to give short, step-by-step instructions on brushing and flossing, or having them copy your movements while brushing your own teeth. Please don’t forget to praise or even do small celebrations once they complete the task. It’s a job well done for them and yourself.
Brush and floss their teeth
You may eventually have to brush and floss their teeth for them. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush held at a 45-degree angle to also clean and massage the gums. Use short, gentle strokes, and be mindful of any complaints about pain or bleeding around the gum line, spots on the tongue, or a consistently dry mouth. Any concerns should be mentioned at the person’s next dental checkup.
If the person wears dentures, rinse the dentures after every meal and brush them daily to ensure all food particles are removed, and soak them in water or denture cleanser overnight. You can keep your loved one’s gums and tongue clean with a soft brush or wet gauze pad.
Take them to the dentist regularly
Your elderly loved one should still visit a dentist who has experience with patients with dementia twice per year for a complete oral examination. Bring a list of all the healthcare providers who are involved in the person’s dementia care, as well as a full list of medications the older person is taking.
You should also provide the dentist with details ready about any oral health issues your loved one is experiencing, such as tooth pain or sensitivity, bleeding around the gums, dry mouth, or trouble swallowing. The dentist will be able to recommend a complete treatment plan that will help the older person enjoy a clean and healthy mouth and cut the risk of contracting other severe health outcomes.
Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is a demanding, often full-time role for families. When you need respite or regular support caring for your loved one, CareHop is ready to help.
Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton
CareHop specializes in providing quality eldercare services, including safe, professional Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care that helps your elderly loved one live at home independently and with optimal health.
We design our services to positively impact your loved one’s quality of life, bringing your family peace of mind that your older relative is always in good hands.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.