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Looking After the Oral Health of Aging Parents

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – BC's sandwich generation will likely be helping to care for their aging parents' oral health in addition to that of their own children, says the BC Dental Association. April is Oral Health Month and the BC Dental Association's annual campaign is focusing on seniors' oral care.

Due to healthier lifestyles and preventive dental care, older adults are keeping their natural teeth later in life. A 2001 survey of more than 11,500 dental patients in BC indicate that tooth loss has dropped by 40 percent in just five years. The average number of teeth in adults aged 56-65 between 1986 and 2001 increased from 19 to 23.

Oral health is likely not top of mind when considering health issues related to growing older. But age-related problems such as arthritis or Parkinson's disease can make brushing and flossing difficult. As such, daily oral care may be neglected and over time this can lead to painful teeth and difficulty eating, increasing the risk for malnutrition and weight loss.

Poor oral health can also put frail seniors at greater risk of developing, or making worse, serious health problems. Bacteria allowed to flourish in the mouth due to poor oral hygiene can travel to the lungs, exacerbating existing lung problems or increasing the risk for pneumonia.

According to Dr. Chris Wyatt, Director of UBC?s Geriatric Dentistry Program, elderly parents may keep silent about their oral health problems. "They don't want to burden their children and may be embarrassed to admit they can no longer look after themselves," said Wyatt. Here are some tips to help aging parents maintain good oral health:

  • Encourage daily brushing and flossing of teeth.
  • Dentures should be cleaned daily to prevent plaque and tartar buildup.
  • If brushing or flossing is difficult, ask your dentist about oral care aids.
  • Avoid cavity-causing candies & treats. Try switching to sugar free options.
  • Visit the dentist regularly, even if dentures are worn.

For more information about looking after aging teeth and gums, talk to your dentist.

SOURCE: British Columbia Dental Association

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