When it comes to supporting the health and wellbeing of our ageing loved ones, care for their teeth might not be something that immediately springs to mind. But recent submissions to the Royal Commission have called for greater awareness of dental health, drawing attention to the potential dire consequences of neglecting it.
Dr Peter Foltyn is no stranger to unanticipated yet tragic consequences of poor oral health for older Australians. A consulting dentist at St Vincent’s Hospital, in an interview with Bite Magazine he tells the story of an 81 year old dementia patient who went from living in his own home to a residential facility following a potentially life-threatening dental infection. The infection, he claims, could have been prevented had a routine dental inspection been done in the 3-4 years prior. It’s an example that, according to the Australian Dental Association, is more common than most people realise.
There are a number of reasons that oral health is so important – the most obvious being its potential to cause difficulties eating which can lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition itself increases the risk of infection, breaks and falls in older people. According to Dental Health Services Victoria, poor oral health can also compromise other health conditions, such as diabetes, aspiration pneumonia and cardiovascular disease.
Regular dental care has a huge impact on health outcomes
As reported by the ABC, Leonard Crocombe from the Centre for Rural Health describes the potential for a ‘perfect storm’ to brew as baby boomers (who have largely been able to keep their own teeth) enter the aged care system. Previous generations tended to lose their own teeth, creating fewer opportunities for infection. Without regular screening and vigilant dental practices, those now entering residential facilities, particularly those with dementia, are at risk from falling ill as a result of poor oral health. A recent three-month study from two aged care homes in Tasmania found that by simply cleaning teeth or dentures twice a day there was a 57 percent decrease in the need for dental referrals, while the risk of aspiration, which often leads to pneumonia, dropped from 70 to 32 percent.
Be proactive about health concerns
Here at Mable, we’ve previously written about what ageing Australians can do to maintain independence. Taking early action about a health complaint, or even just regular health screenings can help you address and even reverse health deterioration in older age. Ensuring a regular dental checkup is included will enable you to catch any potential problems before they become dangerous.
If you have concerns about a parent or loved one’s oral health, it can be difficult to broach the subject. Often, inviting a second opinion, like a nurse or aged care professional, can enable you to take a step back while still making sure they’re getting the support they need.
Mable is an online platform where people who need support can find and directly engage independent support workers, nurses and allied health professionals in their area. See who’s offering services in your area today.