Advancements in dentistry make it more
likely that older adults will keep their teeth longer, which means ongoing oral
healthcare is essential, a new study says. Unfortunately, it's not unusual for
the frail and elderly to have poor oral hygiene.
"Although during recent years
increasing attention has been given to improving oral health care for frail old
people, there is ample evidence showing that the oral health of elderly people,
in particular of care home residents is (still) poor," researchers wrote
in the journal European Geriatric Medicine.
Gert-Jan van der Putten and colleagues reviewed the consequences of poor oral
health and its impact on the general health of frail, elderly people. Van der
Putten is with the Flemish-Netherlands Geriatric Oral Research Group in
Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
was not available for an interview. "Advances in oral health care and
treatment in the past few decades have resulted in a reduced number of
(toothless) individuals and the proportion of adults who retain their natural
teeth until late in life has increased substantially," the authors said in
But when elderly people ignore their dental
hygiene or are unable to keep their mouths clean, health problems can ensue.
Plus, reduced saliva production and certain medications increase the risk of
oral problems, the researchers said. The main dental consequences of poor oral
care include cavities, gum disease and problems with implanted teeth.
Brushing and flossing every day
Oral health also has an impact on health in
general. Mouth problems have been tied to a higher risk of diabetes, lung
conditions and heart disease. Many frail, elderly people are not able to clean
their mouths and need to rely on help from caregivers.
This is especially problematic in long-term
care facilities where the care must be provided by nurses and nurse assistants
who may not grasp its importance, van der Putten and colleagues wrote. They
concluded that if improvements in oral healthcare aren't made, oral disease and
related health issues will become a major problem for people who are frail and
elderly, on par with falls, lack of mobility, incontinence and thinking and
Thus, the researchers said, oral health
"deserves significant attention of national and international politicians,
policymakers, scientists and health care providers." This is not a new
problem, according to Dr Anthony Iacopino. Lacopino is a spokesperson for the
American Dental Association and dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at the
University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in Canada.
He wasn't involved in the study. "The
things that are talked about in this article have been known for years,"
he told Reuters Health. It's important for caregivers and adult children and
grandchildren to know that elderly folks should be brushing and flossing every
day, Iacopino said.
they're not able to brush and floss properly on their own, someone else needs
to take care of their mouth for them. He said the American Dental Association
and state groups are working on programmes to make sure dentists are available in
Daily oral healthcare should also be
provided to elderly people in long-term care centres."If you have any
doubts about whether that's being done, perhaps spend the day there and watch
the care that's been provided to be sure that mouth care is part of it. If you
feel they're not getting that care, bring it to the attention of supervisors or
administrators of the facility," Iacopino said.