I hate to add one more thing to our list of daily “to do’s”. BUT, this often overlooked and potentially serious set of issues deserves our attention.
Oral care is a very personal matter for me. My first significant role as a family caregiver involved caring for my mother-in-law as she fought and lost her battle with head and neck cancer. A horrific form of cancer that stemmed, in her case, to poor dental and routine oral health maintenance.
So, I’ve been thinking about how many caregivers out there are truly aware of the need to place oral hygiene high on their list of care monitoring. I didn’t. I have a feeling I’m not alone!
So, What’s Important to Know?
According to health industry experts, such as the Oral Health America, American Dental Association …to name a few, let me point out some of their top citations surrounding the health risks of poor oral health in older adults:
- Gum Disease. Linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetic complications, gum disease can wreak havoc with your loved one’s health. And, obviously gum disease can lead to loss of teeth, in turn leading to increased issues with eating, getting proper nutrition and infectious diseases.
- Mouth Cancer. Affecting the mouth, throat, tongue, this cancer is most easily detected early during dental visits. Usually silent until the much later stages, lives can be saved through regular exams during the routine trip to the dentist.
- Pneumonia. Persons confined to bed, persons with physical limitations, or those who have difficulty remembering to brush their teeth or care for their dentures, are at high risk to developing pneumonia from inhaled bacteria, simply because attention to oral health falls by the wayside amidst all the other tasks of caring that must be done.
- Dry Mouth. From medications, related to medical conditions such as diabetes, or simply part of aging, dry mouth can lead to serious oral disease, including painful and costly root cavities later in life and gum disease. Dry mouth can also make it more difficult to chew, speak and swallow.
- Diabetic Complications. Diabetics are twice as likely to develop gum disease, making it more difficult to control blood sugar levels and to avoiding dry mouth.
- Wearing Dentures Does NOT Get You Off the Hook. Gums, tongue and palate are susceptible to oral cancer and drying, the same as with the person who has teeth.
What Caregivers Can Do — Top Tips
- Help maintain daily oral care routines. This includes brushing and flossing. Use fluoridated toothpaste.
- Watch what they eat and drink. Drinking fluoridated water is just as important when you are older, as it was when you were younger. Avoid things that are linked to worsening oral health, such as tobacco, alcohol, foods high in sugar, foods that are sticky and high in carbs. In cases of dry mouth, avoid caffeine too.
- Keep Routine Visits to the Dentist. See their dental provider regularly, even if they have no natural teeth!
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Know whether medications they are on can cause dehydration and dry mouth. Watch how much water or hydration they are taking in from other sources daily.
- Chew Sugarless Gum and Mints or Use Sugarless Lozenges. Stimulate salivation to offset dry mouth. Did you know that especially those with Xylitol are good for you? Xylitol is a natural sweetener that protects teeth!
- Use Over-the-counter saliva substitutes, oral moisturizers, mouthwash and sprays. Find one of these to help keep the mouth hydrated.
One More Thing
Beginning in our mid-forties, these issues begin to crop up and impact our health. So, once again, what’s good for our loved one is good for us too! Take care of you.