UK statistical reports currently place the number of people over 65 at more than 10 million, and predict this number to grow to 19 million by 2050 (www.ageing-population-conference.co.uk, 2013). In 2003, it was predicted that 21% of the population would be over 65 by 2020 and in 2012 that prediction was updated to 25% (www.dwp.gov.uk, 2011).
With more and more people keeping their natural dentition later in life (Adult Dental Health Survey, 2009), the need for specialised oral care for the elderly becomes a bigger issue with every generation. And with elderly people being more active, more populous and living longer, dental care professionals need to look beyond what kind of oral care the elderly need, and into how and why this assistance is provided.
For example, a report published by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (2012) stresses the importance of an active social life for the elderly. The report states that social disconnection and loneliness can impact blood pressure and has been closely linked to depression.
Though there are a number of other issues that older people have to contend with when it comes to their social life – such as physical isolation and limited mobility – having to deal with serious oral health issues as well will certainly not help.
If an older person suffers from pain due to acute oral disease, speech difficulty from missing teeth or ill-fitting dentures or bad breath due to improper oral hygiene, these will certainly affect their inclination to go out and be sociable with others.
In another report published by the Audit Commission on the independence and well-being of older people (2004), it’s made clear that being able to help themselves and having a sense of choice are very important to the elderly population.
Most dental care providers may not realise how demeaned and helpless older people feel when someone has to brush and floss their teeth for them. Perhaps something as simple as giving older people the chance to clean their mouths on their own can greatly improve their psychological state and self-esteem.
For the less dextrous elderly, there are several options available that can help them independently maintain good oral health without much assistance.
For example, an electric or ultrasonic toothbrush can also be a great help for the proper cleaning of tooth surfaces, without much strain on aged fingers and hands.
And for those who might find interdental cleaning a challenge, the Waterpik Water Flosser can be an excellent suggestion, as the instrument is much easier to handle and has been proven to be up to 29% more effective than string floss for improving gingival health (Barnes et al, 2005).
Providing proper oral care for the elderly is not just about maintaining the cleanliness of their teeth and gums, it’s also about giving them confidence and independence to help raise their overall quality of life.
Barnes CM Russell CM Reinhardt RA Payne JB Lyle DM 2005 Comparison of irrigation to floss as an adjunct to tooth brushing: effect on bleeding, gingivitis, and supragingival plaque. J Clin Dent 16(3): 71-77
www.ageing-population-conference.co.uk retrieved 20/11/14
www.dwp.gov.uk/newsroom/press-releases/2011/may-2011/dwp044-11.shtml retrieved 20/11/14
2009 Adult Dental Health Survey Executive Summary, NHS Information Centre
Preventing loneliness and social isolation among the elderly. Social Care Institute for Excellence, May 2012
Older people – independence and well-being. Published by the Audit Commission, 2004
For more information on Waterpik Water Flossers please speak to your wholesaler or visit www.waterpik.co.uk. Waterpik products are widely available in Boots stores and selected Lloyds Pharmacies.