How Can I Help my Elderly Parents Care for their Teeth?

Thanks to wonderful advances in technology and healthcare, our population is aging well.  People experiences longer lifespans and more active lifestyles than ever before.  This has led to an increasing trend in the need for middle-aged people to care for their elderly parents.  As the aging process begins to affect mental and/or physical abilities of your loved ones, your role in caring for them becomes more active.

Good dental care is essential to a healthy aging process.  Chronic gum disease increases one’s risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.  Untreated cavities put people at risk for dangerous infections that can spread rapidly.  Oral health has a dramatic effect on the health of the whole body.  In addition to that, oral health affects a person’s quality of life.

One key factor in ensuring a good quality of life is protecting your loved one’s ability to eat, speak and laugh well.  This blog will give you practical ways you can help your loved one maintain good oral health.

Make Sure They Keep Consistent Dental Visits

Elderly people may have trouble remembering their scheduled appointments or obtaining transportation to them.  The importance of consistent dental check-ups and professional teeth cleanings cannot be overstated.  Preventive dentistry can help your loved one avoid cavities and gum disease, or catch problems in their early stages.  Many elderly people cannot tolerate extensive dental treatment.  Keeping necessary dental treatment to a minimum requires consistent preventive dental intervention.

Some elderly people also live on a limited income, making expensive dental treatment impossible.  Preventing dental disease is of the utmost importance!

If you are able, accompany your parent to his or her dental visits so you can assist with any special instructions the dentist or dental hygienist gives.

Help Them with Tools that Make Cleaning Teeth Simpler

Many elderly people have physical limitations that can make cleaning the teeth at home difficult.  Suffering from arthritis makes brushing awkward and flossing impossible.  In some cases, you may need to perform the oral hygiene for your parent, brushing and flossing their teeth for them.  However, in most cases, they just need different tools to be able to accomplish this on their own.

Electric toothbrushes remove plaque very well even with limited manual dexterity.  As long as your loved one can make a fist, he or she can operate an electric toothbrush.  Water flossers, like the WaterPik, are a great alternative to traditional flossing.

Watch for Signs of Dental Problems

Your parents may not want to complain about something that bothers them.  Two warning signs that they are experiencing dental problems are: 1) avoiding certain foods, especially foods they previously enjoyed, and 2) bad breath.  If you notice either of these signs, ask some questions.  If you suspect a problem, make an appointment for your loved one with his or her dentist as soon as possible.

Assume Dry Mouth

Almost every prescription medication causes dry mouth as a possible side effect.  As patients begin taking multiple medications, their risk for dry mouth skyrockets.  Dry mouth greatly increases the probability of developing cavities and gum disease.  Encourage your loved one to drink plenty of water and use oral care products for dry mouth, like Biotene.

Xylimelts are available on Amazon and are simple to use.  Simply place one xylitol patch against the roof of the mouth before bed.  This stimulates the natural production of saliva and protects the teeth and gums overnight.

Work with Other Caretakers to Ensure Proper Oral Hygiene

If you are not your parent’s primary caretaker, you may need to communicate with whoever is to ensure that proper oral hygiene is taking place.  In assisted living and nursing home facilities, oral health care may be overlooked.   It is important for you to set clear expectations for a daily oral hygiene regimen with your loved one’s caretaker.  This includes cleaning any removable partials or dentures your parent may wear.

When you do visit, check your loved one’s mouth to look for any problems or concerns.  Ask your parent if anything is hurting or bothering him or her in the mouth.  Follow up with the caretaker to confirm that daily oral hygiene is being performed.

More Questions about Caring for an Elderly Parent?

Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer any question you have about dental care for your elderly parent and the oral health risks associated with aging.

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