Are you a caregiver? Do you have a loved one or aging parents who need extra assistance to live independently or in a long-term care facility with onsite medical staff? Without access to proper dental care, older adults can develop oral health problems like tooth loss, gum disease, and oral infection. As a result, their health and quality of life also suffer.
If you’re caring for older adults in your family or aging parents, here are some of the symptoms of dental problems that you’ll want to watch out for.
With aging comes the increased likelihood of tooth loss. Especially if your parent has a history of advanced gum disease or dry mouth. When seniors experience problems like tooth decay, it seems easier for them to have their teeth extracted, as opposed to restoring or replacing them with typical dental procedures like bridges or implants. With gradual tooth loss, your aging parents then lose the ability to eat normally. They may feel pain in their mouth because they can’t chew their food. One of the most common signs is skipping meals, avoiding certain foods, or eating far less than they normally would.
Xerostomia is the term we use to describe chronic dry mouth. As we age, saliva production typically goes down. Especially since a lot of seniors take multiple medications, where dry mouth is listed as a side-effect on the drug label.
Without appropriate saliva production, teeth are more susceptible to tooth decay.
Your parent might complain of difficulty swallowing, pain when wearing a denture, bad breath, or a sticky mouth. Many dentists recommend methods to stimulate saliva production, such as chewing sugar-free gum or using a moisturizing mouth wash. Supplementing with a daily fluoride gel or rinse can also help get your loved one through these cavity-prone years.
Without healthy teeth and gums, seniors tend to shift to softer and more processed foods as part of their everyday diet. Lack of dental care in senior care facilities and nursing homes may be difficult to pinpoint, but weight loss isn’t.
When we have healthy natural teeth, and missing teeth aren’t a concern, we can eat whatever we like. Nutritious and nutrient-dense foods are easier to break down and for our body to absorb during digestion. But without healthy teeth and gums, those foods become impossible to eat or break down for our GI tract. Over time, elderly loved ones may start to lose weight and develop related medical conditions that make it more difficult to perform self-care or recover from minor illnesses.
Not Wanting to Wear Dentures Regularly
One of the most common red flags that seniors are experiencing an oral health problem is not wearing their dentures regularly. If your loved one wears dentures, pay close attention to see if they’re putting them in every day. If they aren’t, it could be because of dry mouth symptoms, bone loss (which makes their jaw and gums shrink), or broken teeth.
If dentures fit comfortably, your loved one should be able to wear them normally. But poorly fitting dentures can be painful and alter someone’s normal eating habits. Open sores on their gums or across the roof of the mouth are common, especially if caregivers are not removing dentures daily for appropriate oral hygiene purposes.
Whenever poor dental hygiene comes into play, it can affect the way dentures or partials fit. When those prosthetics start to feel loose or rub, your aging parent probably won’t want to wear them even during mealtime. If this is the case dental implants are a great alternative to dentures which help avoid all of these issues, look and feel just like their real teeth.
Skipping Regular Dental Visits
When your loved one visits the dentist regularly, your family can screen for dental issues while they’re small and easier to manage. Serious infections or loose teeth can typically be avoided.
Just like younger adults, your aging parents need to have a dental visit at least twice a year to keep their mouth healthy. Especially if they’re taking prescription medications (like for high blood pressure or something else) which can cause dry mouth (xerostomia.) Dry mouth is extremely common in older adults and can lead to an uptick in tooth decay as well as sore or infected gum tissue.
Mouth Sores or Bad Breath
If older adults are sleeping in their dentures or don’t remember to brush their teeth routinely, it’s just a matter of time before symptoms of bad breath start to develop. Periodontal disease is usually not far behind. But if an older adult’s teeth are already missing and they wear dentures, there could be a dental problem lurking under their prosthesis. Failing to remove the dentures routinely can cause sores, bleeding gums, and accelerated bone loss.
All of these conditions make it difficult to eat or can cause trouble chewing.
How You Can Help
- Here are just a few important tips to help your aging parents enjoy healthier teeth and better quality of life:
- Make sure your parent has access to the right oral hygiene tools for their dexterity levels, such as an electric toothbrush or floss holder
- If on a fixed income, it’s best to plan regular dental visits to intercept tooth or gum problems as early as possible
- Make sure caregivers and/or nursing staff are removing any prosthetics that your parent wears (like dentures or partial dentures) every night and then cleaning the inside of their mouth with a soft toothbrush or washcloth.
- Take them to see a dentist at least twice a year for regular checkups, denture inspections, and cleanings, if applicable
- Work with your dentist to manage any pain, tooth decay, gum disease, or broken teeth that may be impairing your loved one’s diet
- Come up with a plan to replace missing teeth in a durable, comfortable manner
If you live in Leawood or near Kansas City, feel free to schedule regular dental care appointments for your parent at Gordon Dental Implants & Cosmetics. With early detection, we can prevent the need for certain dental procedures and avoidable dental problems.
Contact our office today to reserve an appointment for your loved one.