The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) is working to ensure that every senior in Canada has access to essential oral health care services
Maintaining good oral health is directly connected to a person’s overall health and well-being, especially for people aged 65 and older. “That’s why the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) has been steadfastly advocating for improved oral health services in long-term care residences and for targeted oral care funding to support all vulnerable seniors,” says Wendy Stewart CDHA’s President. “The role teeth have in our lives cannot be understated. Without them, eating, speaking, and even socializing can be difficult if not impossible.”
The association is lobbying the federal government to provide necessary funding for a universal oral health care plan for vulnerable seniors. CDHA also recommends that national standards for long-term care (LTC) include oral health.
Treating her clients in their homes and LTC facilities, independent dental hygienist Carolyn Weiss sees the issues facing Canada’s seniors firsthand. “You’re in a setting where residents are reliant on others to take care of them,” she says. “When the lips are closed, the problem’s gone.”
A fresh perspective
Travelling to them with her mobile equipment, Weiss is improving the way her clients perceive and respond to dental work. “There’s less fear and it’s not as overwhelming an experience,” explains Anne Clarke, whose brother is a client of Weiss’. “I cannot express how much it has improved his dental and overall health.”
Weiss agrees with CDHA that LTC staff should receive basic oral health education from dental hygienists so they can spot potential problems quickly. “Dental hygienists need to be a part of the interdisciplinary LTC team, just like physical therapists,” she says.
The role teeth have in our lives cannot be understated. Without them, eating, speaking, and even socializing can be difficult if not impossible.
“I think it’s very important for seniors to have oral hygiene care,” says 91-year-old Jean Sych, after a recent at-home dental hygiene visit. “The government should fund seniors to get this service in long-term and home care.”
Oral hygiene recommendations for seniors include using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, and cleaning in between the teeth. For improved dexterity, a large-grip toothbrush and flossing picks or interproximal small brushes may be used. Gum care is also important, as gum disease is linked to other health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Standards of care
Oral health services in LTC residences have been lacking for too long and our seniors are experiencing unnecessary pain and ill health as a result. The fact that many of them cannot pay for professional oral care out of pocket only exacerbates the situation. “About 56 percent of Canadians aged 60 and over don’t have dental coverage,” says Stewart. Without a dental benefits plan, many seniors don’t have the resources to get the care they require. “Seniors take their oral health seriously. It’s time for the rest of us to do so as well,” notes Stewart.