One major factor that contributes to oral health risks are dental appliances seniors wear-dentures, implants and crowns. Pairing those with the naturally declining health of the body as one ages, the more likely for the body to contract periodontal diseases. There are also medications that constrict one’s immune system. Recent studies have shown that while taking in medications may help in curing the body of a disease, it compromises the pancreatic functions and may cause liver failure, thereby increasing the chance of acquiring diabetes at a later point in life.
The Impacts of Poor Oral Health
In children, Jürgensen et al. have shown that active dental caries and total dental caries experience is associated with toothache, missing school, and impairments to daily life activities (eating, smiling, and sleeping) Blumenshine et al. demonstrated that children with both poor oral and general health are more than twice as likely than those without these problems to report poor school performance. Similarly, Jackson et al. showed that children with poor oral health are nearly three times more likely to miss school as a result of dental pain than those in good oral health. Importantly, these authors found that oral health status is associated with performance independent of pain (i.e., even if there was no dental or oral pain), meaning that as an end-point, pain is by far the extreme, with the threshold for impacts present much earlier when experiencing poor oral health.
Agou et al. have shown that even malocclusion (i.e., a problem with the way teeth and jaws bite together) has quality of life impacts on children and, more specifically, on children with low self-esteem. Their study demonstrated that socioeconomic status is a significant mediator of quality of life impacts on these children. Using the same data, Locker further demonstrated that the worse the quality of life impact, the greater the effect on children of lower socioeconomic status. Similarly, among adults, Locker found that income disparities in oral health-related quality of life outcomes remain after accounting for differences in levels of oral disease. All of this implies that treating oral disease, especially among socioeconomically vulnerable populations, has the potential to decrease time lost from school and improve learning in children, and move individuals towards better health and psychological gains.
The impacts of poor oral health and the benefits of access to quality oral health care also extend into adulthood. For example, in terms of productivity, McGrath et al. found that among those with dental infection, one in five adults reported that they had to take time off work or study because of these problems. Quiñonez et al. found that employed, low-income Canadians who reported chronic painful aching in their mouths were more likely than those without such pain to have experienced a disability day (implying that they stayed in bed, did not work, or could not engage in normal activity) associated with a dental problem in the previous two weeks.
This bears out in system impacts as well. Governments and health care systems are affected by inefficient and ineffective allocation of resources when it comes to populations with poor oral health. Recent Canadian work has demonstrated the influence of poor access to oral health care on the health care system through the use of hospital emergency departments for dental conditions that are most effectively treated in regular oral health care settings. This is an allocation issue, and one that extends to the use of physician offices as well. Ultimately, if hospitalization occurs, costs can be extreme, and the pathway associated with this endpoint consumes societal resources not meant for oral health care that can be used for other illnesses best treated in hospital settings.
The oral health related quality of life in different groups of senior citizens
For the representative sample of Greek senior citizens that took part in the present study, the oral health impacts on the quality of life of the individual’s were significant and showed important increase especially as the self-reported level of oral health decreased. Further investigations into the Oral Health Quality of Life in individuals with significant signs of disease, present or past, must be undertaken. Data from such studies would aid in efficiently advocating for the formation of a suitable profile for future dentists to handle an ageing population, as well as underline the need in providing the necessary resources and public funds for dentistry. It is important to place dental and oral health in the proper context and to show the powers that be that this factor affects the ability to function which in turn has more far reaching economic ramifications. This is essential if we are to live up to the aspirations of the WHO’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”
Improving the oral health of older people
The proportion of older people continues to grow worldwide, especially in developing countries. This, along with an increase in the prevalence of oral disease and non-communicable diseases, will significantly challenge health and social policy planners. The WHO Oral Health Programme encourages public health care administrators and decision-makers to design effective and affordable strategies and programmes for better oral health and quality of life of the elderly, which are integrated into general health programmes. Demonstration projects on oral disease control, health promotion and quality of life improvement should be initiated and evaluated systematically as to outcomes and processes for sharing of experiences across countries. Finally, surveillance systems targeted at the oral health of the elderly can help assess the attainment of goals for oral health of the elderly and provide data for analysis of the cost-effectiveness of oral health programmes.
Checklist for assessing the oral health skills of seniors
- Is s/he brushing teeth at least daily?
- Ask specifically about the brushing routine and how the task is done.
- Is the task done well?
- Try to gather what ‘done well’ means to the senior.
- Are the right materials/supplies used?
- What products and tools are used, how and how often are they replaced (i.e. tooth brush, denture cleaner, floss, etc.)
- When was the last time the toothbrush was replaced?
- Explain how often it should be replaced and what type to use. A free brush is always welcome.
- Is s/he wearing dental devices as required?
- Do not assume that a senior is caring for or using their dental devices properly. Ask how and have them demonstrate it to us.
- Are any dentures, plates, or other oral devices cleaned daily and properly?
- Do not assume that dental devices are being cleaned properly, even if they obviously tell you the right products they are using and such. Ask for details and even have them show you what they do.
- Are all oral devices, dentures, and teeth in good repair?
- Do not assume the senior will tell you if there is problem. Many seniors come from a background of not complaining about things. Also, due to medications or health issues, the senior may physically or mentally be able to tell you if there is a problem.
- Does the senior have regular dental appointments?
Schedule the next routine appointment immediately after the appointment and write it down on an appointment card (consider ordering large ones that have large print and can be put on the frig.) and ask if the senior has their calendar with them. If the senior has their calendar with them, write the appointment in the calendar for them. Also call the senior a week in advance of their appointment as a reminder to arrange transportation and then again the day before the appointment.
As more seniors live longer lives, the majority would like to preserve their teeth for as long as possible but as shown, there are many obstacles that may go undetected that could prevent this. It is important for Boomers caring for their aging parents to understand how they can help monitor their elderly parent’s oral health, for seniors to understand how the aging process can create unforeseen obstacles preventing good oral health and for dental professionals to understand how the overall aging process affects how a senior’s oral health can change. Dental professionals also need to be more aware of assessing the larger picture, while paying more attention to the details too, of a senior’s oral health needs.
Dental Care Tips For Seniors
Floss Regularly – People of every age should floss daily, but it is even more important for a senior who’s teeth have seen more wear. Be sure to floss in between every tooth on a daily basis to maintain your healthy smile.
Improved Diet – If you haven’t been the “healthiest” eater throughout your life, now is a great time to start. One way of truly improving and retaining oral health is to eat and drink healthier foods. Try to eat more green and raw vegetables, eat whole wheat, and drink less fatty milk products.
Brush Your Tongue Daily – Tongue brushing is too often overlooked, and even more so in older age. While brushing your teeth will always be essential in retaining oral health, it is much less effective unless you brush your tongue daily as well.
Ditch Refined Sugars – By now you know that too much refined sugar is certainly no good for your teeth. Try to cut out refined sugars from your diet as much as possible. However, we know some patients never loose their sweet tooth. Thankfully, these days there are hundreds of healthy snacks and desserts on the market with sugar alternatives that are just as delicious as other sweets.
Provide Dentists With Med Records – If you take one or more medications or have had any surgeries since your last dental visit, be sure to inform your dentist. This will give your dentist the information they need to assure you are given the correct treatment as well as medications if they are necessary.
Treat Dentures Like Teeth – Although dentures are not real teeth, you should always treat them as such. Brush them daily and keep them in the best of shape. This will save you both embarrassment and money in the end, and leave you with a bright and beautiful smile to share.
Never Decrease Brushing – As some patients get older, they brush their teeth less often or for less time. Some seniors simply fall asleep early and forget to brush. Others may experience arthritis pain, which may prompt them to brush for less time. There are devices you can buy or make to decrease arthritis pain while brushing, and you can set a bedtime alarm for you to get your teeth brushed if it is becoming a problem. Don’t let anything get in the way of your oral health!
Upkeep Dental Visits – No matter how healthy your teeth are, it is important to make yearly visits to your dentist. Your dentist will provide you with the best services for your age and make sure your teeth are staying aligned and healthy. They may perform additional services for you at your age to assure your teeth are healthy and you are able to perform the tasks you need to, from chewing to laughing.
- “Improving access to oral health care for vulnerable people living in Canada.” Includes bibliographical references and index. Issued in print and electronic formats. Text in English and French on inverted pages. ISBN 978-0-9877815-2-9 (pbk.).–ISBN 978-0-9877815-3-6 (pdf)
- “The oral health related quality of life in different groups of senior citizens as measured by the OHIP-14 questionnaire“, William Papaioannou1*, Constantine J. Oulis2 and John Yfantopoulos3, Oral Biology and Dentistry ISSN 2053-5775
- “Improving the oral health of older people: the approach of the WHO Global Oral Health Programme“, Petersen PE, Yamamoto T. Improving the oral health of older people: the approach of the WHO Global Oral Health Programme. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2005; 33: 81–92. Blackwell Munksgaard, 2005
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- Official U.S. Navy Dental procedure aboard USS Abraham Lincoln. Visit : https://flic.kr/p/9frbTN