How Important Is Dental Care For Seniors? Let's Find Out!
When it comes to preventing diseases and infections for your older loved ones, nothing beats setting up a care routine that helps you keep their personal hygiene in order.
Seniors have naturally lowered immunity levels and dry mouths, so it is important to pay special attention to their oral/dental hygiene.
This instalment of ‘You Ask, We Answer’ column will address some of your questions on oral/dental care for seniors.
Dr. Foo Lean Heong (left) and Dr. Yang Jingrong (right)
Consultants in the Periodontics Unit, Restorative Dentistry Department – National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS)
Are dental care and oral care the same thing?
Yes. Both “oral care” and “dental care” refer to the maintenance of healthy teeth. “Dental” is generally used in relation to dentistry, while “oral” often refers to the mouth.
Why is oral or dental care important to a person’s health?
Poor oral hygiene can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, which may cause pain and swelling in the mouth. A person with advanced diseases might even lose his/her teeth, affecting their ability to chew and talk, and their self-esteem. This is why good oral hygiene is important.
Oral care is also important to prevent infections that can have a big impact on patients with weakened immune systems. The mouth contains a lot of bacteria that could enter the airway, and cause infection such as pneumonia in this group of patients. Hence, a simple step to remove plaque can go a long way in preventing such infections.
Is oral or dental care relevant to seniors who have no or very few teeth or use a nasogastric tube?
Apart from the teeth, bacteria can also stay on the cheeks, tongue, and dentures. As such, seniors with very few or no teeth still require oral care, albeit with simpler steps. This would include brushing of the dentures and cleaning of the tongue and cheeks.
For patients on feeding tubes, bacteria can still build up on the remaining teeth, tongue, and cheeks even when no food passes through the mouth. These seniors will require oral care as well.
Yes. Good oral care is able to prevent infections by removing bacteria build-up in susceptible seniors. Hence, we should teach seniors to brush their teeth and clean their dentures accordingly, as bacteria can also hide in the dentures and cause lesions in the mouth when worn. In addition, we need to educate their caregivers to learn proper techniques in providing assistance during daily brushing to these seniors.
Could you explain the role of daily brushing and regular dental check-ups?
Brushing teeth at least twice a day is recommended to remove plaque, a soft yellow deposit consisting of bacteria and food pieces that form on our teeth after we eat. At the same time, the tongue should be brushed as well, as it contains many fine hairs that trap plaque.
Bacteria in the plaque reacts with sugar from food and drinks, and produces acid that can erode the tooth surface, leading to common dental problems like tooth decay and gum diseases. Over time, plaque can also harden to form tartar (calculus) - a harder deposit that cannot be removed by brushing alone.
Generally, we also recommend people to have a dental check-up at least once a year to detect dental conditions like tooth decay, and perform scaling to remove tartar. If no treatment is done to remove the decay, it might worsen into nerve inflammation and cause severe pain. In this case, a root canal treatment would be required to ease the pain and treat the nerve infection, followed by crown fabrication to protect the tooth.