As part of SCI’s vision to drive authentic conversations about quality-of-life for the elderly, we will publish posts throughout the year that focus on best-in-class organizations that are committed to a future of healthy and happy seniors.

As today is World Oral Health Day, we have taken this opportunity to focus on the importance of maintaining oral health habits for older adults. We worked with TePe Oral Hygiene Products AB to examine the significance of oral care and oral health challenges for seniors; and compiled tips and recommendations to maintain good oral health in the long run. Here’s to a healthier smile for everyone!

Elderly smiling happy

Oral care for seniors

Oral health is often an overlooked aspect when it comes to senior care. According to the Journal of American Dental Association, seniors are vulnerable to dental problems and are underserved in the oral health arena. From a social aspect, one of the main reasons why senior oral care is neglected is because oral diseases are associated with normal aging. While tooth loss, dental cavities, and gum disease are common, they are not part of normal aging (An 2009). Most education campaigns and advertisements about oral health are targetted towards young people which, unfortunately, excludes seniors from the greater conversation around good oral care.

Oral health diseases: causes and effects

Older adults also have a disproportionately higher risk of oral health problems. Dry mouth caused by reduced saliva production is often a side-effect of certain medications taken in a majority by the elderly (Tan et al. 2017). The presence of bleeding gums –  a sign of periodontitis – is caused by a build-up of plaque as a result of negligent dental care practices. It is the leading cause of tooth loss in seniors and has been shown to have possible links to arthritis, heart diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Tooth loss has a number of impacts on one’s health and wellbeing as well. According to Raphael 2017  “seniors who have lost all or most of their teeth often end up avoiding fresh fruits and vegetables. Relying on soft foods that are easily chewable results in a decline in nutrition and health. In addition to pain and difficulty speaking, toothlessness often leads to embarrassment and a loss of self-esteem contributing to loneliness and social isolation”.

Simple tips for a healthy smile

There are several benefits to maintaining healthy teeth throughout life. TePe’s advice is that a few minutes of attention each day goes a long way in maintaining a healthy smile. Here are some of their best pieces of advice:

Healthy gums and teeth

healthy gums diagram

  • Healthy gums are light pink with a stippled surface and fit firmly around each tooth
  • There is no bleeding when brushing or cleaning between the teeth
  • Brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste
  • Clean between your teeth once a day
  • Avoid snacking, and drink water when thirsty
  • Attend regular checkups with your dental professional

Cavities

tooth cavity diagram

  • Bacteria form acids that corrode the tooth enamel when eating or drinking sweet or acidic drinks
  • Saliva neutralizes these acids and protects the teeth to some extent, but frequent acid attacks do not give them time to recover
  • Enamel begins to dissolve, which gradually leads to cavities (caries)
  • Cavities often form where it is difficult to clean properly, for example, between the teeth
  • Cavities do not necessarily hurt
  • Give your teeth time to rest between meals.

Gum inflammation

gum inflammation diagram

 

  • If bacteria is not removed from the gum line, a sticky film – plaque – will begin to form
  • Plaque can cause gum inflammation (gingivitis)
  • Redness, swelling, and bleeding are signs of gingivitis
  • Without treatment, the inflammation can spread and affect the jawbone, meaning that the gingivitis develops into periodontitis (tooth loss)

Brushing the teeth

  • Daily toothbrushing removes bacteria from the teeth
  • Brush the inside, outside and biting surface
  • Ensure that the gum line is cleaned as well
  • Choose a toothbrush with soft or extra soft filaments for gentle cleaning
  • A tapered brush head makes it easier to reach the back teeth

Tips for efficient toothbrushing

  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes, twice a day
  • Hold the toothbrush at an angle of 45° against the gum line
  • Brush with small movements and light pressure
  • Brush all tooth surfaces
  • Avoid eating or drinking for two hours after brushing to make the most effective use of the fluoride’s caries-preventing effect
  • Change your toothbrush regularly – at least every three months or when the filaments are worn

Check your brushing technique

  • Plaque is difficult to see, especially between the teeth
  • Check if all areas have been properly cleaned by using a disclosing tablet

Clean between the teeth

  • A toothbrush only reaches three of a tooth’s five surfaces, leaving the space between teeth vulnerable to bacteria accumulation
  • This is why caries and gum inflammation often start to develop between the teeth
  • Cleaning between your teeth is just as important as using a toothbrush
  • Use dental floss, dental sticks or an interdental brush on a daily basis
  • If your gums start to bleed while you clean, this may be a sign of inflammation
  • Keep on cleaning and the bleeding may stop after a few days
  • In the event of continuous bleeding, visit your dental professional

Adding these steps to our oral care routine takes a few extra minutes each day. By making these changes, we can establish the foundation for a healthier, happier smile for tomorrow and the years to come.