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Oral Health Problems In The Elderly: What To Look For As A Caregiver

Oral Health Problems in the Elderly: What to Look For as a Caregiver

Maintaining oral health is essential at all ages, but it can become tricky when working with elderly individuals. Seniors cannot always communicate when something is wrong with their teeth, making it more difficult to diagnose and treat oral health concerns. Read on to find out the most common dental conditions in seniors and how to prevent them.

What Are the Most Common Dental Conditions in Seniors?

While seniors can develop any type of dental concern, there are some issues that seem to be more prevalent than others. The following are the most common oral conditions seen in elderly people:

Gum Disease

Gum disease occurs when bacteria consistently enter the gum line and begin to damage surrounding tissue. Poor oral hygiene allows food particles and plaque to build up around the gums, creating the ideal environment for bacterial growth. Eventually, the gums become inflamed and recess backward. When it is left untreated, gum disease can compromise the teeth and jawbone.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is another common dental condition that impacts baby boomers. Untreated cavities or cracks in the tooth can lead to tooth decay. This happens because they allow bacteria to enter the tooth and infect the pulp, causing decay to set in. When tooth decay develops, it can cause everything from difficulty chewing to bad breath.

Tooth Loss

A large number of seniors are missing one or more teeth due to untreated dental issues. If tooth decay is not resolved, it eventually leads to tooth loss. Teeth can also be lost due to severe falls that cause breakage or damage to the tooth. Sometimes, the wear and tear of life damages the teeth, calling for extractions later on. This is why many seniors have dental implants, bridges, or dentures.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can occur at any age but is most common in senior citizens. The average age of mouth and pharyngeal cancer diagnosis is 62. These cancers can cause lesions, growths, and open sores in the mouth that do not heal. Left untreated, they can become terminal or spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Signs of Oral Health Issues in the Elderly

Caring for a senior citizen comes with great responsibility. This includes watching for the signs of dental concerns — especially in seniors who cannot communicate well. If you care for a senior with cognitive decline or dementia, they may be nonverbal and unable to tell you when their teeth are bothering them. 

To ensure early diagnosis of conditions like tooth decay or gum disease, look for these signs:

Difficulty Chewing Food

One of the first indicators of an oral health concern is difficulty chewing. Almost all dental concerns can make it harder to chew. You may notice the adult you care for struggling to chew their food or choking on pieces that should have been easy to chew. This could be due to jaw pain, a loose tooth, or painful gums.

Bad or Unusual Breath

Have you noticed a strange or particularly foul odor coming from your loved one’s breath? Dental concerns can sometimes lead to halitosis, or bad breath, that does not resolve with tooth brushing. This can indicate a decaying tooth, cavity, or plaque buildup around the gums.

Aversion to Drinking Cold Beverages

When the senior you care for refuses to drink cold beverages or grimaces in pain when they do, it could be an oral health concern. Tooth decay and cavities can make cold drinks painful because they expose the nerves in the tooth. If your loved one tries to avoid these drinks, it can indicate an underlying issue.

Maintaining Oral Health in Seniors

To avoid dental health problems, you should guide the older adult you care for through proper oral hygiene. Adhere to an oral health routine that includes brushing at least twice daily for about four minutes at a time. 

Flossing should be done after each meal to remove food particles and bacteria from between the teeth. Afterward, they can rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash to flush out any remaining bacteria and thoroughly cleanse the gums.

Seniors who wear restorative pieces like dentures must take extra care to clean their hardware. Use the appropriate products to sanitize these pieces and have them repaired if they break. Professional cleanings and comprehensive dental exams should also be performed at least twice yearly.

What to Do When You Suspect Oral Health Concerns in the Elderly

If you notice signs of dental concerns in a senior you care for, seek prompt treatment. These issues can quickly lead to more serious conditions and compromise overall oral health. To maintain dental health, it is beneficial to establish an ongoing relationship with a quality dentist who can perform regular cleanings, manage dental hardware, and perform diagnostic evaluations for the senior under your care.

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices throughout California including: Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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