As our parents age and need more care, don't forget that their oral health is an essential part of their overall health.
There comes a time when we become caregivers to those that raised us. Instead of them shuttling us off to music lessons or karate, we now find ourselves taking them to hair appointments and doctor's visits. It might be easy to forget their oral health, but it's vital and can help them stay healthy as they age.
Arthritis is a common condition in the elderly, and as it progresses, they can lose the dexterity necessary to brush their teeth well on their own. Age-related memory issues make it harder to remember to brush and floss. Broken teeth or dentures can be uncomfortable and can cut their cheeks or tongue. If your parent or family member can't effectively express what they're feeling, they may start trading healthy food for soft, carbohydrate-laden foods that offer little nutritional value.
Here are some tips to help your loved one keep their mouth healthy while allowing them the freedom to care for themselves:
- Make Sure They Keep Up with Regular Cleanings and Exams – Even if they have dentures, it's important for them to see a dental professional every six months. Receding bone levels can alter the fit of a denture, and many oral cancers don't hurt. A professional exam can make sure everything looks A-OK.
- Brush Their Dentures – Bacteria loves to grow in dark, wet places. If dentures aren't inspected nightly and cleaned, an already compromised immune system might not be able to fight off an infection. Be sure to check for any chips or cracks that could irritate your loved one's lips, cheeks, tongue, or gums. Dentures also prevent your oral tissue from "breathing," and removing them while they sleep helps their gum tissue stay healthy.
- Make Brushing Easier – There are many large-handled and electric toothbrushes on the market that are specially designed to fit arthritis-riddled hands.
- Remember to Floss – Flossing is still a vital part of oral hygiene. Help your loved one out by buying them dental floss picks or angled flossers that have a small piece of floss attached to an easy-to-hold base. Make sure not to force it in between the teeth, though, or you could do more harm than good.
- Check Their Breath (Discretely) – Bad breath is a red flag for gum disease or an infected tooth. If their breath smells rancid shortly after brushing and flossing, make an appointment for an exam.
Being a caregiver is both an honor and a significant life change. It can be overwhelming, but keeping your loved one at home a while longer is a great reward. Remember that change can be challenging for the elderly, too, especially if they have a cognitive impairment like dementia or Alzheimer's. With these tips, helping your aging parent or family member keep their mouth healthy is one less thing to worry about.