Having good oral hygiene is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health. Although it’s essential to keep your mouth healthy all year round, National Oral Hygiene Month in October is the perfect time to brush up on your dental hygiene education.
As people age, they are more likely to experience health problems than younger people – worsened dental health is one of them.
Some common dental problems among older adults are:
- Dry mouth
- Root and coronal caries
- Teeth sensitivity
Gum Disease Linked to Alzheimer’s
As we know, older adults are at a higher risk of developing memory problems. While some forgetfulness does come with getting older, developing significant cognitive impairment such as dementia is not normal. Many factors can contribute to cognitive impairment, such as a person’s overall health, including oral health. Gingivitis is prevalent amongst seniors and causes the release of a species of bacteria known as Porphyromonas gingivalis. This bacteria releases nerve cell destroying enzymes called Gingipain. These enzymes can travel from the mouth to the brain, destroying nerve cells in their path, resulting in memory loss. A study published by Harvard Health Publishing reviewed autopsies of 53 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and found that nearly every one of them had Gingivitis. Having good dental hygiene can act as a protective factor against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Maintaining dental health can become a more significant challenge for those with memory impairments, among many other aspects of their lives. Because communication and speech can become impaired early on in the disease, they can’t always tell you if they are experiencing pain, where it is coming from, or if something happened to cause the pain. This can aggravate the stress and frustration they are already experiencing due to their memory issues.
How To Maintain Oral Health In Seniors
Now that you know why having good dental hygiene is vital for older adults, especially those with memory impairments, let’s go over ways to maintain oral health.
Incorporating regular dentist visits is the most important thing to keep up with good oral hygiene. Typically, people are encouraged to visit their dentist for routine cleaning twice a year. However, if there is a problem, more frequent visits might be needed for necessary treatment. Finding a dental provider capable of working with older adults with memory issues can also help alleviate any stress that comes from going to the dentist — an already anxiety-inducing situation for most people!
The Alzheimer’s Association provides some great ways to maintain dental hygiene among older adults with cognitive problems:
- Use the “watch me” technique – Have them watch as you brush your teeth and then have them brush their teeth, or use your hand over their hand to assist them. This technique is known as mirroring behavior.
- Give them clear and concise instructions – Presenting information in a way that is easy to understand can help avoid confusion about directions. Prompting may also be necessary when giving instructions. Instead of saying “brush your teeth,” you can say “pick up your toothbrush,” “squeeze paste on your brush,” then you can prompt them to brush their teeth.
- Do simple daily dental maintenance – Dedicate time twice a day for either yourself, a caregiver, or the affected individual to conduct dental care such as brushing, flossing, or using mouthwash. A good tip is to place the toothbrush in their mouth at a 45-degree angle to gently massage their gums as either you or they brush their teeth. This will help to reduce the risk of developing gum disease. Making a routine of this can help build familiarity and comfortability with dental care.
- Keeping dentures clean – Make sure to rinse out dentures in the morning and night, as well as after every meal or snack. Dentures should be removed at bedtime and placed in a cleanser such as Polident overnight. Brushing the gums of people who have dentures is often overlooked, but it’s important to use a soft toothbrush to keep their gums and tongue clean.
Check out this video for some great tips on how to assist someone with brushing their teeth if they are unable to do so themselves!
No Time Like The Present
During National Oral Hygiene Month this year, take a little time to learn more about incorporating dental hygiene into your daily routine or the routine of your senior loved one. Oral health can directly impact memory issues, so now is the right time to incorporate better oral care. For more information on National Oral Hygiene Month, visit here.