Dental health is essential, though many of us actively avoid the dentist. However maintaining dental health as we age is of vital importance.

There are various diseases that are linked to poor dental health including endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium). Bacteria can travel via the bloodstream and migrate to any damaged areas of the heart.

Research into heart disease has explored the relationship between oral inflammation and infections, to clogged arteries and the increase of stoke occurrence. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.

There are certain health conditions which exacerbate dental health, including diabetes, osteoporosis, HIV, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A focus on preventative dental health practices such as brushing, flossing and regular dental checks is of particular importance for people living with dementia.

It is expected that by 2015, 900,000 Australians will be living with dementia. It is likely that as dementia advances that a person living with it may lose the ability to brush their own teeth.

According to the Australian Dental Association, the following brushing techniques administered by qualified carers require a cooperative approach.

Chaining – the carer begins by brushing and the person with dementia takes over

Bridging – the individual holds the brush while the carer brushes the teeth

Hand over hand – the carer’s hand is placed over the person with dementia’s hand to guide brushing

Yawning – Yawn facing the person and hopefully stimulate a yawn in return, so they will open their mouth.

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Keeping the teeth and gums hydrated for people with dementia is also essential, to combat dry mouth, a side effect of many dementia medications. Saliva carries minerals and immune cells which assist to protect the teeth from cavities and infections. Medications, such as anti-depressants, Parkinson’s medication, high blood pressure drugs and bisphosphinates limit saliva flow which impacts on dental health.

A related concern is the waiting times for other dental procedures such as dentures. As we aged our gum ridges can shrink, causing dentures to loosen. Bone can also shrink, causing jaws to misalign. Loose or ill-fitting dentures can create sore spots and stomach problems from poorly chewed food.

Across Australia, the waiting times for dentures various, with the aged in Victoria waiting an average of 18 months. The waiting times can be longer in regional areas. Dental services are not covered under the current Medicare system.