Senior Oral Health Care— The Oral/Systemic Link

Can you imagine not being able to brush your own teeth? Perhaps it is due to arthritis, poor vision, or dementia. Your inability to perform routine and effective oral hygiene care leads to dental decay and likely periodontal (gum) disease. It can also contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and aspiration pneumonia. Controlling your diabetes will be much more difficult.

Oral hygiene care is more than routine grooming like brushing one’s hair, or shaving—it is infection control!

Inflammation of the gums will negatively effect overall health. The mouth is connected to the body! The blood that is in the infected gum tissue is the same blood that is traveling to the heart.

Many seniors have had the benefit of preventative dental care.  They have their natural teeth!  Who will take the responsibility for caring for them when they can no longer care for themselves?  This responsibility falls on the family or caregiver.  Basic steps can be taken to assist and encourage oral hygiene care.


Be prepared. Set up the toothbrush with a thin layer of toothpaste in the bathroom. Have a cup of water ready to rinse. (If rinsing is not possible, use a thin layer infant toothpaste gel—it is safe to swallow)

Have the individual stand (if possible) or sit at the sink.

Hand the toothbrush to the individual and ask them to brush.

If this is not possible, place the toothbrush in their dominant hand and have your hand over theirs and gently brush.

Ask your dental professional (dentist or dental hygienist) what might work best for cleaning between the teeth.


Ask who is providing oral hygiene care (brushing and between the teeth oral hygiene care) and how often.  Once a day?  Twice a day?  What training did the caregiver receive?  How is your loved one responding to this oral care?  Are they cooperative?  What steps are being taken to make it successful?

One of the main reason seniors are hospitalized is aspiration pneumonia (AP.) AP is the inflammation of the lungs caused by breathing in foreign material. Where is that material coming from to “set up shop” in the lungs?  Many times, the mouth!  Hospitalization and antibiotics may be needed to prevent respiratory failure.

One’s overall health depends on quality oral health!

This article was submitted by Mary Jensen RDH, MS

Mary is a Registered Dental Hygienist and the Lead Oral Care Specialist with the HyLife Oral Health Alliance and provides weekly oral hygiene care to dependent seniors. She can be reached at 630.877.3151 or by email at