Taking care of granddad and grandma’s smiles
As our grandparents get older, their oral health demands closer attention. Taking care of their teeth and gums isn’t just about preserving their radiant smile; it’s vital for their overall health. Dental problems can lead to pain and infections which can even worsen other health conditions. So, helping our grandparents maintain good oral hygiene shows them we truly love them in a tangible way. In fact, it is essential to ensuring they live comfortable, healthy lives.
Oral health status
Australians are living longer than any time in history and, as they age, their oral health increasingly requires attention. Since it is an essential component of overall health and well-being, it is crucial to address the unique challenges that seniors face in maintaining good oral hygiene.
According to the 2017–18 National Survey of Adult and Oral Health:
- Nearly 3 in 5 older Australians (aged 55 and over) saw a dentist in the last 12 months.
- Among those aged 75 and over, 22% avoided or delayed dental care due to cost, and 18% reported they would have difficulty paying a $200 dental bill.
Common oral health issues among older Australians
Dental caries (Tooth decay): Many older adults live with untreated tooth decay, and this has increased in recent years. In just over a decade, the number of older Australians with untreated decay in at least one natural tooth increased from 22% to 27%.
Periodontal disease: Periodontitis is suffere by around 59% of older Australians. This conditon, also known as gum disease, can lead to tooth loss if left untreated.
Tooth loss: Tooth loss affects people of all ages, but it is much more severe among older Australians. On average, Australians aged 65 and older are missing 13.7 teeth, which is drastically more than the average figure for younger people.
Oral discomfort: A growing number of older adults experience toothache or discomfort with the appearance of their teeth, mouth or dentures, impacting their quality of life. This can be caused by a wide range of underlying conditions, and recently increased by more than 8 percent in only 5 years.
Impact of health conditions on seniors oral health
The connection between oral health and overall well-being is undeniable. As our grandparents age, a range of health conditions can significantly impact their oral health. Chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes and dementia can contribute to oral health issues.
Cardiovascular disease and diabetes, for example, can reduce blood flow to the gums, which increases the risk of gum disease. Arthritis may make brushing and flossing more difficult, while dementia can cause forgetfulness regarding oral hygiene routines. Medications used to manage these conditions may also cause dry mouth, which can result in tooth decay and discomfort.
It is crucial for both seniors and their carers to understand and address these connections, emphasising the significance of oral health considerations in comprehensive health care.
Preventative care for seniors
Proper brushing and flossing: Teach and assist your senior family member in practising proper oral hygiene. Brushing twice a day and flossing once a day helps remove plaque and prevent decay.
Balanced diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains provides essential nutrients for oral health. Limit sugary snacks and beverages, as they can contribute to tooth decay.
Alcohol and smoking: Family members should discourage their loved ones from drinking too much alcohol and smoking because both are bad for their oral health.
Regular dental visits: Encourage your grandparents to visit the dentist at least every six months. Dentists can identify and treat potential problems before they worsen.
Hydration: Hydration is essential for saliva production, which helps prevent tooth decay and maintain a moist mouth.
Proper denture care: Ensure that your grandparents clean and soak their dentures daily to prevent oral infections and discomfort.
Medication management: Some medications can cause dry mouth, which can increase the risk of tooth decay. Discuss this with their healthcare provider and consider sugar-free lozenges or artificial saliva.
Supporting your granddad and grandma
Regular communication: Maintain an open conversation with your grandparents regarding their oral health. Encourage them to speak about oral discomfort or concerns they may have.
Accompany them to appointments: If possible, accompany them to their dental appointments to provide support and ensure they receive the necessary care.
Assist with daily care: If your grandparents have difficulty brushing and flossing their teeth, offer to assist them or consider providing them with adaptable tools.
Healthy lifestyle: Be a role model and maintain excellent oral hygiene and overall health practices. This may encourage your loved ones to do the same.
Financial support: If cost is a concern, check the availability of public dental care and assistance programmes for seniors.
When we take care of our grandparents’ oral health, it provides far-reaching benefits to their overall health, comfort and quality of life. Understanding the challenges they face, implementing preventive care measures and actively involving the family allows us to ensure that our cherished elders enjoy a lifetime of healthy and happy smiles.