Adding teeth to your overall health check

Last updated on 21 September 2023

Older people need to add teeth and oral health to their overall health check. [Source: iStock]

Key points:

  • Teeth and oral health are vital to your overall health and wellbeing
  • Untreated gum disease can put you at a higher risk of a heart attack
  • Dementia can make the upkeep of teeth and oral health more difficult

Yet, teeth and oral health is so vital to an ageing body and your overall health and wellbeing.

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) believes that ignoring oral health is to the peril of older Australians or those taking care of their older parents.

Dr Mikaela Chinotti, Dentist and Oral Health promoter from ADA, says that it is really important for older people, or family and carers taking care of older loved ones, to get on top of their oral health.

Why is oral health important?

Did you know that untreated gum disease can put you at 2.5 times higher risk of a heart attack?

The ADA says that oral health is linked to a person’s overall health, so if you aren’t taking care of your teeth – it can lead to other problems.

If you don’t take care of your teeth or leave oral health problems untreated, it can contribute to Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and a range of cardiovascular issues.

One significant issue that affects many older people is dry mouth, which can lead to many of the above health-related problems.

Dr Chinotti says, “A dry mouth is a dangerous mouth because it can increase the risk of tooth decay developing without saliva washing away food particles.

“It is often related to medication use, particularly if a person takes several different medications a day.”

Upkeeping your oral health can also keep gum disease at bay, which will ensure eating food and drinking isn’t impacted when you consume things, like having pain when you eat or drink.

Ways to improve your oral health

The ADA states that the mouths of older people can be the “most neglected part of the body” in both residential aged care or those living in the community.

Dr Chinotti recommends a number of ways for older people to combat dry mouth and reduce their likelihood of developing other health issues. Such as:

  • Drinking lots of water
  • Sipping water while eating
  • Avoiding sugary drinks
  • Drinking less tea and coffee
  • Avoiding alcohol or smoking

She also recommends for older people to utilise toothpaste that is specifically for those who experience dry mouth, as well as mouth rinses and lubricating mouth gels that can help with dry mouth issues.

Taking care of your parents

It is important for family or children of older people to consider the oral health of their older loved one when checking up on them.

For those living in aged care, keeping an eye on their basic oral health needs can be really important.

The ADA points out that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard countless stories of dentures and teeth not being cleaned for weeks because of inadequate staffing.

If you can take time to look at the teeth of your older loved one, it can make all the difference to ensure they are getting appropriate dental care or to alert someone to the need for this care.

When checking over your parent’s teeth, look for:

  • Red gums that look puffy or shiny
  • Bleeding from brushed or flossed teeth
  • Teeth that look loose or “look longer” with larger spaces between them
  • Check their dentures
  • Bad breath

If your mum or dad is living with dementia, they may not remember to brush their teeth, floss or go to the dentist. This means it is important someone is monitoring these activities to ensure they are upkeep good oral hygiene.

However, if you are unsure or worried about the health of your older parent’s teeth, book them in to see a dentist or request a dental visit through your aged care facility.

Taking care of yourself

You may find taking care of your own teeth more difficult or challenging because of your mobility or health.

This could be for issues like holding your toothbrush if you have bad arthritis, fatigue from the brushing action, or forgetfulness if you live with dementia.

Luckily, there are many aids available to assist you in taking care of yourself. For instance, if you need help holding your toothbrush, a special multipurpose tool can provide you with more surface area to grip onto when brushing your teeth.

Or if you live with dementia, a daily activity tracker can make sure you log your oral health activities.

When taking care of your teeth, look out for:

  • Pain when eating or drinking
  • Pain when eating cold or hot food and drink
  • Red or white spots that have recently appeared
  • Ulcers or mouth sores that take longer than two weeks to heal or keep returning
  • Issues with dry mouth
  • Ill-fitting dentures

Issues like dry mouth can also affect how well dentures stay and sit in the mouth, which can be quite uncomfortable if you wear them.

Regularly cleaned dentures can make the difference when wearing them, and if they are still not staying in your mouth, you may find using denture adhesive – that is available from the chemist – can be quite helpful. Alternatively, if dentures don’t seem to fit, it’s probably time to visit a dentist to get another pair made and refitted.

If you are worried about your oral health or teeth, it is best to go and seek help from a dental expert.

Ideally, you should be visiting the dentist at least once a year to ensure your teeth are healthy and to catch any rising issues.

Is upkeeping your oral health important to you? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Top tips for older people to keep up dental hygiene
Looking after oral health in aged care
Top health concerns for older people