Caring for Loved Ones – and Their Oral Health

Halloween CandyHappy National Family Caregivers Month. At any given time, more than 65 million people in the U.S. care for a chronically ill, disabled or aging family member, spending an average of 20 hours per week providing care.1

If you’re part of the 29 percent of the U.S. population caring for loved ones,1 it’s important to keep their oral health in mind. Older family members, in particular, may be facing some dental issues that you haven’t encountered yourself.

Oral cancer. Ninety percent of all oral cancers occur in people age 45 and older, likely because they’ve had longer exposure to risk factors such as too much sun and longtime tobacco or alcohol use.2 Most dentists screen for signs of oral cancer at each exam, so make sure your loved one visits the dentist regularly.3

Dentures. Nearly half of Americans age 65 and older have lost six or more teeth, and 20 percent have lost all of their natural teeth due to tooth decay or gum disease. Missing teeth can affect chewing function and diet, in addition to making speech difficult. From individual tooth implants to full dentures, there are replacement options to suit many different needs. If the person you care for is missing teeth, discuss options with their dentist to help retain as much normal function as possible.4

Dry mouth. Older adults often take medications that result in dry mouth, such as antidepressants, pain relievers and drugs for high blood pressure and incontinence. Saliva helps defend against periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay and also aids in swallowing and digesting food. If your loved one is experiencing dry mouth, a dentist should be able to recommend treatment. In the meantime, it may help to suck on sugarless candy or ice chips, chew sugarless gum or try an over-the-counter artificial saliva product. Avoiding caffeine, tobacco and alcohol is also recommended.5 Daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste, use of fluoride mouth rinse and regular visits to the dentist are very important to help counter the negative effects of dry mouth.

Keep this information in mind when caring for your family members to help make sure their smiles stay as healthy as possible.

1http://www.caregiveraction.org/statistics/
2http://oralhealth.deltadental.com/Search/22,21467
3http://oralhealth.deltadental.com/Search/22,DD30
4http://oralhealth.deltadental.com/Search/22,HD52
5http://oralhealth.deltadental.com/OlderAdult/DryMouth/22,21438


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