Help elderly loved ones maintain their oral health

July 10, 2010

Couple enjoying the outdoors

Oral health is an important, often overlooked component of an older person's general health and well-being, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you're a caregiver to elderly parents or grandparents, you can help maintain their oral health by ensuring that they do the following:

  • Brush their teeth and floss daily to help prevent periodontal disease. Get assistance with oral hygiene if unable to perform these activities independently.
  • See their dentist regularly even if they have no natural teeth and have dentures. Professional care helps to maintain the overall health of the teeth and mouth, and provides for early detection of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions.
  • Avoid tobacco. In addition to the general health risks, smokers have seven times the risk of developing periodontal disease compared to non-smokers.
  • Limit alcohol. Drinking a high amount of alcoholic beverages is a risk factor for oral and throat cancers. Alcohol and tobacco used together are the primary risk factors.
  • Get dental care before having cancer chemotherapy or radiation to the head or neck, which can damage or destroy oral tissues, and result in severe irritation of the oral tissues and mouth ulcers, loss of salivary function, tooth decay, and destruction of bone.
  • Seek professional care if sudden changes occur in taste and smell.
  • Visit their doctor if medications produce a dry mouth. If dry mouth can't be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco and alcohol.

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