Help Aging Parents maintain their Oral Health

| October 13, 2008

Are you a member of the Sandwich Generation?

If you are 1 of the millions of Americans that fall in the “sandwich generation” you’ve got a busy schedule taking care of your own kids as well as looking after your aging parents.

Oral health may not be at the top of the list when considering health issues related to growing older.  But, age related problems can make brushing and flossing difficult.  Daily oral care that is neglected over time can lead to painful teeth and gum issues resulting in tooth loss, difficulty eating, increased risk for infection, malnutrition, and weight loss.

And if you’ve ever visited a nursing home around meal time you can tell who has teeth and who doesn’t based on what’s for dinner.  It’s sad to see something that was once such a pleasurable part of life be reduced to soft foods only.

So, what can you do to help your parents?

First, help your kids out by making sure you are visiting your own dentist as often as they advised.  Typically twice per year.  Then have a conversation with your parents and discuss the following

  • When was the last time they visited a dentist?  Many of the older patients in our office come to see us four times a year just because they are having trouble maintaining their oral health.
  • Would using an electronic tooth brush help them brush better?
  • If they have dentures, do they wear them?  If not why?  Dentures that fit well cost more but the also function better.   Beware of discount dentures.  If a denture isn’t worn, anything you paid for it is too much.
  • What medications are they taking?  Many blood pressure medications are known to cause dry mouth which can accelerate the decay process.
  • Any radiation treatments to the head and neck area can reduce salivation leading to dry mouth decay.  If dry mouth is a problem, speak to your dentist and they will be able to recommend proper care.
  • Are they able to eat the foods they want?  Eating is a lifelong pleasure and sometimes a denture adjustment by a dentist can make all the difference.
  • Are they experiencing and chronic tooth pain?  Chronic tooth pain could be an indication that there is an infection.

Explaining a few dental myths

One of the greatest myths of the aging process is that tooth loss is inevitable – that loosing teeth in old age is a fact of life.  While tooth loss often increases with age it’s not always because of age.  My parents are in their 80s and they have their own teeth!

Another myth is that losing teeth as we grow older represents a problem confined to the oral cavity.  In reality, untreated periodontal disease and tooth decay influence an older person’s health status and quality of life.

So you see… routine visits to the dentist can help improve the quality of life for your parents for years and years to come!

You can also request a helpful DVD on Oral Longevity from the American Dental Association.