Steve Bond, Pharmacist at Yurek Pharmacy & Home Healthcare in St. Thomas.

When I was a young lad, I was always amazed (and maybe a little freaked out) when my grandfather would pull his teeth from a cup at his bedside and pop them into his mouth. Of course, he swore he didn’t need them as he could chew through the toughest steak with just his gums! With advances in oral health care, many seniors will keep some or all of their teeth and that means more opportunities to care for their dental health.

Good oral hygiene is important to our general health. For example, when the mouth is not cleaned regularly and properly, mouth bacteria can accumulate. These bacteria can be inhaled — particularly in people with swallowing difficulties — which can lead to bacterial pneumonia. Similarly, if these bacteria enter the blood stream, they can affect heart tissue leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Poor oral hygiene can lead to lower self-esteem and fewer social interactions which impact our overall mental health.

Regular brushing and flossing are key steps to good oral health. If you find holding a toothbrush difficult, making the handle larger with a sponge or a bicycle grip handle may be the solution. Electric toothbrushes might also be advantageous; they usually have larger handles and can help those who can manage fine movements. Assistive devices like toothpaste tube squeezers can also be a huge help. If flossing is a challenge, using a floss holder or dental tape (which is wider than floss) may be the answer.

If like my granddad, you are at the point of wearing dentures (complete or partial), oral care is just as important as plaque and bacteria can accumulate on false teeth like your natural ones. Following your denturists guidelines for removing and cleaning them will reduce contamination. It is also critical to care for your gums. Watch for signs of bleeding or swelling which may indicate a poor-fitting appliance.

Annual dental check ups can address issues before they progress. For some seniors, the dental visit may come to them. Our Southwest Public Health now has a mobile dental vehicle which services those covered by the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program — a service for low-income seniors. This mobile unit has all the features found in a brick-and-mortar dental office but is more accessible – particularly for those who live in rural areas of Elgin and Oxford Counties. For more information: click here or call 1-800-922-0096.

Look after your oral health and take care of yourselves and each other.