We are taught from a young age about the importance of dental care. Aside from the cavities that can develop in children and adults, more risks arise as we age. Poor dental health can affect overall physical health, nutrition and well-being.
Keeping natural teeth is an important goal for seniors, because it’s easier for them to eat. Healthy eating in turn reduces inflammation and infections of the teeth and gums, thus reducing the risks of medical conditions such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s. If your loved one already has Alzheimer’s, they will probably need your help. Day-to-day activities are a challenge for them as their memory skills decrease.
Here are five tips for helping your elderly loved ones care for their teeth.
- Purchase an electric toothbrush. Conditions such as arthritis, weakness and hand tremors can make it difficult for seniors to hold a toothbrush. An electric toothbrush with a wide, easy-to-grip handle will help. If you don’t think they will be able to operate an electric model, another option is to modify a standard toothbrush with Velcro or a large handle.
- Remind them to brush. Gentle reminders will coax them to brush their teeth. Gain their attention with a light touch or signal before beginning to speak. Talk clearly and softly, and face them when talking.
- Brush or rinse after every meal. Because trapped food particles can cause bacteria, it’s important for the senior to brush after every meal. Build this into their daily routine.
- Help them. If they have difficulty brushing their teeth, offer to help. This may not be easy because they usually don’t want to have someone else stick something in their mouth. Here’s a technique you can use. Stand on their dominant side, holding the brush. Have them hold your hand as you gently brush their teeth. Place your other hand on their opposite shoulder, pressing gently to distract them from the brushing.
- Keep them hydrated. In addition to the natural process of aging, many medications can cause a decrease in the amount of saliva. Limit their intake of alcoholic beverages and beverages high in sugar or caffeine, such as juices, sodas, teas or coffee (especially sweetened). Dry mouth can lead to mucositis, caries, cracked lips, and fissured tongue.
It’s important to ensure your loved one maintain proper dental care. Otherwise, their health will suffer and that will lead to unwanted complications. Aside from the health problems, you probably don’t want to have your loved one face the experience of a visit to the dentist’s office. Keep their teeth healthy to avoid this risk.
Sources: DailyCaring.com, ADA.org