More Than Just a Smile: Importance of Dental Care in the Elderly
Smiles are the most easily recognisable facial expression and one of the first things we learn as new-borns. Smiling transcends time, languages, cultures and is one of the most basic ways in which humans connect with one another. And of course, behind each smile is (hopefully) a set of teeth!
As we age, taking care of our overall health becomes increasingly important, and this includes maintaining good oral hygiene. There are known links between poor oral health care and pneumonia, heart disease and diabetes, and maintaining a healthy mouth is integral to overall health and ensuring nutritional needs can be met easily. As the NHS states, a person’s oral health acts like a window into what is occurring in the rest of the body. The health of your mouth has direct implications for your overall wellness.
One of the primary goals of dental care in the elderly is to preserve natural teeth for as long as possible. Our bodies are designed to help us out with this – did you know that the enamel that covers the outer part of the tooth is the hardest substance in the human body? Figures from the Adult Dental Health Survey (published every ten years) show that whilst just 22% of people in England aged 65 and over retained some of their natural teeth in 1978, by 2009 this had increased to 85% of 65–74 year olds and 67% of those aged 75 and over. Though this is positive news, it also means that the oral health needs of the elderly are becoming increasingly complex. Dental treatment for older people used to primarily involve providing dentures to those who had lost all their teeth, now many older people require ongoing regular maintenance of heavily restored teeth, which creates new challenges for dentists.
British Geriatrics Society states that “getting oral health care right is a key part of supporting older people’s health, wellbeing and dignity”. Regular dental check-ups, cleanings with a hygienist and proper at-home care (including flossing!) promotes mouth health, which in turn ensures better chewing, speech, and self-confidence. For good dental hygiene, especially in the elderly, it’s essential to detect problems early on and treat them quickly and as least invasively as possible. Dentists are able to address issues such as tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer and dry mouth, all of which are common in older adults and can escalate quickly to impact wider health.
Having healthy teeth and a confident smile is not only paramount to general health, but also positively impacts a person’s social life and emotional well-being. In a study published by the American Psychological Association, self-esteem is lowest amongst young adults, then steadily increases throughout adulthood until peaking at age 60 and declining again. Having confidence in your smile means that you’re able to interact comfortably with others, prompting more meaningful social interactions and connections.
As oral healthcare becomes increasingly difficult for some as they age, it’s important that there are measures in place to continue encouraging dental hygiene amongst the elderly. Key health professionals in both acute and community settings should receive training on oral health, and it is important that all social care practitioners understand the significance of oral health. Mouth Care Matters is an initiative that has been introduced in hospitals across the South East NHS hospitals which aims to raise the healthcare team’s awareness of the importance of good dental hygiene.
By nurturing our oral health, we invest in more than just good teeth; we’re investing in our own health and well-being and our confidence in connecting with others.
Author Bio: Chania Fox is a freelance writer with experience in publishing and copywriting. Chania has previously worked for Linen Press, the UK's leading independent female publishing press, as well as working as a copywriter for a global design consultancy with high-profile international clients. She is also available on Linkedin.