As we get older, it’s important to make sure we maintain good oral hygiene habits. Failure to keep up with good oral hygiene can increase the risk of many serious health conditions. Heart problems, stroke, and early cardiovascular death have all been associated with infected teeth and gums.

Gum disease has also been related to many forms of cancer, including oral cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. Early onset dementia has been linked to gum disease and missing teeth. Dentures can also harbor dangerous bacteria, and poorly cleaned dentures have been linked to pneumonia.

However, elderly people, especially those with declining physical and mental strength, may have difficulty maintaining good oral hygiene. Fortunately, a tailored intervention for oral health seems to have positive results on oral hygiene habits, according to a new study from researchers in Finland.

Happy elderly couple

Reinforcing Basic Principles

For this study, researchers looked at a group of seniors living in home care facilities. Tailored intervention was performed with 151 of the patients, while 118 in the control group received no intervention. Age of the groups was about the same (84.4 for intervention group, 84.7 for control group).

Both groups received an initial oral health exam. The intervention group was interviewed about their oral hygiene habits. For each patient in the intervention group, a plan was designed to correct oral hygiene issues specific to that patient. The plan, which typically reinforced basics like brushing, flossing, and cleaning dentures, was discussed with the patient.

After six months, all patients were given a follow-up oral health exam. Those in the intervention group had significantly reduced the plaque on their teeth and dentures. Improvement was related to physical and cognitive ability. However, those in the control group had more plaque on teeth and worse oral health than at the initial exam.

Your Own Hygiene Intervention

If you have an elderly loved one, you can help them improve their overall health by talking to them about oral hygiene. This is true whether they are in home care, living with you, or living on their own. Here are some of the basic steps to take to ensure your elderly relative is properly caring for their oral health.

First, just talk to them about oral hygiene. Make sure they understand its importance and its connection to overall health. Find out both their attitude toward oral hygiene and their oral hygiene practices.

Second, make sure they have the right tools for good oral hygiene. Physical disability related to arthritis or other conditions can make it hard for them to grasp and use a normal toothbrush. However, alternatives exist. This includes toothbrushes with special handles that are easier to hold and electric toothbrushes. Help them understand the importance of regularly cleaning dentures and not sleeping with dentures in.

Third, make sure they have the help they need to get their teeth and gums cleaned. If they are living in a care home, make sure caregivers know when your loved one can’t clean their own teeth properly. If they are in your home, set up a schedule of who will help them clean their teeth.

Finally, make sure they are still seeing their dentist regularly. Even if they don’t have any natural teeth, they should see their dentist at least once a year. The care home may have a dentist on staff, but if not or if your loved one prefers to see their own dentist, make appointments for them.

At Harriman Family Dental, we see patients of all ages in Harriman and surrounding areas, from young children with their first teeth to elderly patients who have lost all their teeth. Please call (845) 783-6466 today for an appointment with a family dentist.