Family caregivers of senior adults can find themselves tackling situations that are foreign to them on a daily basis.
One caregiving task that might be unique for you as a caregiver of an elder family member is caring for their dentures.
Yes, someone else’s teeth!
“No way,” you say?
Dentures require special care to keep them clean, in good repair, free from damage and fitting well.
Failure to care for dentures properly can yield consequences that are very dangerous for your senior loved one.
Health Implications of Dentures
Did you know that elders who require dentures are more likely to suffer malnutrition?
Seniors who have had their natural teeth removed for whatever reason and now have dentures are much more likely to have difficulty at some point in the future getting adequate nutrition, especially as a result of difficulty chewing food.
Often times this leads to elimination of nutritious foods from their diets because they become too difficult to bother chewing.
Unfortunately, the first foods that are eliminated are often meats, the major source of essential protein for many. In addition, studies suggest that seniors who have lost their natural teeth have a decrease in micronutrient intake (vitamin and minerals) as well.
This unintentional dietary change as a result of their dentition has a great potential to result in unhealthy weight loss.
Concerns About Teeth
Many of our seniors find that their natural teeth have begun to fail them.
Over time and perhaps because they have not gotten adequate dental care over their lifetimes, teeth can begin to lose their strength and break down.
Dental caries, abscesses and gum disease can lead to removal of the natural teeth. Dentures are a great solution for many seniors who have problems with their dentition.
What many seniors may not consider is that their dentures are not meant to last their lifetime without proper care and attention.
As our seniors’ weight changes, so does the profile of their gums and supporting structures of the mouth leaving the current dentures ill-fitting.
Denture Fit is Important
Ill-fitting dentures for seniors can lead to serious health concerns.
When dentures no longer fit well, seniors look for ways to modify their diets and change the textures of the foods they choose to help make chewing easier and less painful. Many healthy foods that have a tough, course or crunchy texture or leave behind seeds or other fibers are quickly dropped from the diet in favor of easy to masticate foods like soup and desserts.
When we stop eating the high quality nutritional foods our bodies require, we will have a shortfall in protein (essential for strong muscles and balance), vitamins, minerals, fiber and even water which can lead to malnutrition.
Seniors who are not eating well because of problems chewing their food can suffer from loss of muscle strength, bone strength and nutrients to fight off opportunistic infections.
It is important to pay attention to their teeth and gums but also the mouths of our seniors who already have dentures. They need care too to prevent nutrition and health concerns.
Other Denture Concerns
There are many area of concern about which family caregivers need to be aware when it comes to dentures.
- If your senior’s denture fits, adhesive can be used for added stability. If the denture is loose, adding adhesive to fill the gaps can lead to tissue damage in your senior’s mouth so the plates should be taken to a dentist for repairs.
- Examine your senior’s mouth and gums for any signs of irritation or mouth sores as a result of ill-fitting and rubbing denture plates. Ill-fitting dentures can cause gums to bleed or become painful and sores can form. When they become painful, most seniors either stop eating or stop using their dentures and change the foods they eat.
- Never adjust or repair a denture yourself, always visit a dentist. Do-it-yourself repair kits can sometimes damage your senior’s denture to a point where a permanent fix can’t be made.
- Often new dentures (or those newly repaired) will take a little time to adjust to for your senior. Remind your senior to chew well, eat slowly and take smaller bites to prevent choking.
- Don’t use toothpicks on dentures.
- Dentures shouldn’t click when your loved one eats or talks and, if they do, may need repair.
- If your senior has a dry mouth condition and their dentures fit well, they may benefit from using an adhesive.
- Dentures are not once in a lifetime appliances. They will need to be relined or remade because of normal wear and tear or whenever there are any changes to your senior’s face, jaw or weight. Any loose dentures need to be repaired as soon as possible.
- Regular dental visits are important and should be made even when your senior has full dentures.
9 Tricks to Care for Dentures
Caregivers should feel comfortable providing care to seniors’ dentures and inspect their mouths from time to time. It is not the most pleasant of tasks for some caregivers, but must be done. If they resist you, enlist help so that they can receive appropriate mouth care.
Be sure that any paid caregivers are paying close attention to your loved ones dentures and mouth too!
- Your senior loved ones’ dentures need to be cleaned every day. They should be brushed with a soft bristled brush designed for dentures to remove debris and food plaque. It is best to rinse off dentures after eating.
- When you are cleaning dentures or partials, be careful not to drop them. If you clean them over a towel you can help prevent breakage if they drop in the sink or onto the floor.
- Don’t use regular toothpaste on your dentures! These are too abrasive and may damage dentures. Don’t use bleach to remove any stains because it could discolor the pink portion.
- You can use mild dishwashing liquid to clean dentures if commercial dental cleansers are not available.
- Ultrasonic cleaners can be helpful to thoroughly clean dentures without damage. Don’t forget, daily brushing for debris is still needed.
- Never use hot water for dentures since they could warp.
- Always store dentures in a denture container with water to keep moist, they should not be allowed to get dry or lose their shape.
- Gums, tongue and palate need to be brushed to keep them clean and free from potential irritants every morning before dentures are worn.
- Use a minimum amount of denture adhesive, if needed. Be sure to remove any remaining adhesive daily as you clean.
Proper care and treatment of your senior loved one’s teeth will help keep their whole body healthy — and that’s one of our missions as family caregivers!