eet Bob. Bob has always been an outgoing senior, active in his seniors’ residence, and chatty with other residents and staff. However, Bob hasn’t been himself recently. He is quiet, rarely leaves his room, and no longer socializes with other residents.  One of the care aides notices he isn’t eating his meals, he has lost weight, and is irritable when she tells jokes to encourage him to smile. What is the reason for Bob’s sudden withdrawal? His oral health.

Bob’s arthritis had been getting progressively worse, making it impossible for him to brush his own teeth. He became embarrassed to smile and socialize because of the appearance of his teeth, and he feared his bad breath could be detected by others. The medications he was on were causing his mouth to become extremely dry, which made communicating even more challenging. Eventually, the lack of daily oral care led to tooth pain. Eating meals became uncomfortable, even unbearable at times.  Bob quickly became weak and frail.

Finding a solution

We all know Bob.  Many of us have experienced aspects of his story, either with our parents or with other older adults for whom we care. Research has shown that many seniors suffer from gum disease and tooth decay caused by plaque — consisting of food debris and bacteria — which accumulates in the mouth.  Fortunately, most oral diseases and infections can be prevented through daily and professional oral health care.

Dental hygienists are oral health care providers who deliver preventive and therapeutic oral care in a variety of settings, including mobile practices that allow them to provide services to seniors in their own homes or in long-term care facilities. After a comprehensive assessment, the dental hygienist will work with seniors and their caregivers to develop an individualized oral care plan. Seniors like Bob deserve the preventive oral health care that dental hygienists provide. Let’s make it happen.