Proper Oral Care for Seniors

by: Maria Licoudis, R.N. & Care Manager

elderly women practing mouth careOral care is critical to physical and psychological well-being, no matter how old a person gets. When our mouth, teeth and dentures are healthy, we can eat all the foods necessary for proper health and nutrition. As well, oral health affects everyday life through talking, laughing, smiling, social interaction and self image. Despite our knowledge of oral health, it is still neglected for various reasons.

Oral disease can affect self esteem, socialization, and the ability to eat therefore leading to malnutrition. Oral problems can include dental cavities, periodontal disease (where gums and the supporting structures are affected), cracking or ulcerations of the lips and edges of the mouth, stomatitis (where the oral mucosa is inflamed), ill fitting dentures, tooth loss, and oral cancers.

As we get older, our teeth and gums are more susceptible to weakening, cracking and plaque buildup. As well, many seniors just cannot perform their own oral hygiene. Decreased cognitive ability and memory loss from Dementia and Alzheimer’s, make it such that elderly people omit and forget to brush and floss their teeth, or care for their dentures. Other factors that contribute to poor oral care are:

  • loss of strength
  • weakness
  • decreased mobility
  • vision decline
  • poor dexterity
  • cognitive decline
  • tremors
  • inability to hold a toothbrush, and/or squeeze toothpaste onto the brush and rinse

In terms of diet, we must stress that seniors with good oral health, are able to benefit from a much more varied diet and range of foods, which leads to a healthier and a stronger body and immune system.

We, as caregivers, are responsible to assist our clients to maintain, improve and encourage them to take care of their own oral health. Oral care should be performed upon awakening, and after every meal. In addition to brushing and flossing, brushing of the tongue is very important as it decreases bacteria. Choose a soft brush as it is more gentle. Be sure to brush all teeth, and all the inside surfaces as well. When brushing the tongue, caregivers should ask their client to protrude his/her tongue. If the client can, have him/her rinse with tepid water. Flossing may be done prior to brushing as well.

Caring for seniors with dentures involves the same care, as plaque build-up still accumulates on the dentures as it does with regular teeth. If the client can assist, allow clients to do as much as they can. Always encourage the client to wear their dentures as long as they can throughout the day. Dentures give seniors a better appearance, more confidence, and improve their ability to eat. Once dentures are removed, they should be cleaned, brushed and placed in a denture cup. Clean the tongue and have the senior rinse his/her mouth with water or antiseptic mouthwash diluted with water. Visiting the dentist yearly and examining the mouth for any sores, irregularities, or lumps should be part of the daily mouth care regime.

For clients who are unable or unconscious, foam swabs moistened with water or hydrogen peroxide can refresh the mouth and remove any scabs or crusts or dryness. For clients with Dementia, oral care can be a more complex and difficult task to perform. As the disease progresses, memory loss and disorientation make performing mouth care more difficult. Small, frequent meals and snacks should be given. Always check for infections, sores, inflammation, bleeding or lumps. Having patience, and taking the extra time to explain and to have our client participate in their own care can achieve a better result, thereby maintaining a healthy mouth and healthier overall mouth care.

Note: This information is for informative purposes only. Always check with a medical professional.


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