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Oral health in older adults

02 August 2020
Volume 25 · Issue 8


The UK population is rapidly ageing, and this is set to continue for many more years. Consequently, this projects a number of health problems and challenges that need to be addressed. Functional impairment and age-related diseases have a significant impact on oral health, leading to a poor quality of life. Dental diseases become more prevalent in older adults, partly as a result of their poor general health, medication side effects and, in some instances, due to limited access to good dental care. Healthcare staff should be aware of these problems and ensure that individuals are given the correct advice, care and treatment. This article outlines what is known about oral health among older adults and highlights some of the common health conditions that affect oral health status in this population. Community nurses are well placed to educate and empower older adults in maintaining good oral health.

Despite global efforts to promote oral health, this aspect of health care remains a major challenge among disadvantaged and marginalised populations. Ageing brings its own challenges that impacts daily life. According to World Health Organization (WHO) (2018), the world population of those aged over 60 years is expected to double from 12% to 22% by 2050. This dramatic increase will no doubt put a huge strain on the healthcare system as well as quality of life. With ageing, mental and physical capacity gradually decline, leaving individuals requiring assistance to carry out their daily tasks. Although there are some individuals in their 70s or 80s with good health and functional abilities, there are others with health conditions who need regular support with daily living.

The most common oral conditions among older people are dental caries (decay), periodontal disease (gum disease), dry mouth and soft-tissue lesions, and numerous risk factors contribute to the development and progression of these diseases. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of general health problems impacting the oral health of the older population. In particular, it discusses some of the common diseases, medications and treatments that significantly affect the oral health of these individuals. It is hoped that this article will raise awareness and enhance the knowledge of community nurses in providing care or advice related to dental health.

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