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Why oral health care is important for older people

Why oral health care is important for older people

Oral health is a significant factor affecting older peoples’ quality of life, overall health and wellbeing. Tooth loss, tooth decay (dental caries), gum disease (periodontitis), dry mouth (xerostomia) and oral cancers are commonly experienced by older people.

Management and/or prevention of these conditions can be achieved by:

  • routine oral health assessment
  • oral health care planning
  • support with daily oral care
  • referral to a dental professional.

While older people may or may not visit a dental professional on a regular basis, they do interact with a wide range of health care workers who are responsible for assessing and monitoring their health as well as assisting with personal care.

You can develop the oral health knowledge and skills needed to support older people as they transition from independence to formal care by using the following resource packages:

Quality of life and oral health

Poor oral health affects an older person’s ability to chew and eat a variety of foods. This causes poor dietary intake and weight loss.

Discomfort from poor oral health disrupts sleep and the ability to relax. It also affects an older person’s appearance, self- esteem and self- confidence as well as their ability to talk and communicate effectively.

General health and oral health

Oral health and disease are closely related to general health and disease. The mouth acts as a portal for disease with tooth decay and gum disease sharing links with many of the chronic medical conditions experienced by older people such as cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory diseases. Oral cancers are mostly diagnosed in older age groups.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a high risk factor for gum disease and oral infections such as thrush. Poor diabetic control aggravates gum disease. The systemic inflammatory response caused by gum disease exacerbates diabetes and increases the risk of cardiovascular complications.

Aspiration pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia is linked to poor oral health. It is a cause of preventable hospital admissions and death of older people. With the accumulation of dental plaque and bacterial colonisation of teeth, gums and tongue as well as dentures, the mouth serves as a reservoir for recurrent lower respiratory tract infections. This is made worse by the presence of tooth decay, gum disease, dry mouth and difficulties with swallowing.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth is a common side effect of many of the medications prescribed for older people. It is an uncomfortable condition. Dry mouth affects a person’s ability to speak, taste, chew and swallow food. It increases the risk of tooth decay, oral infections and aspiration pneumonia.

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