Nursing facility residents and seniors with diabetes and dementia are at increased risk of health problems due to poor oral hygiene, according to a new review of aging and oral health. 

Without good oral hygiene, the use of fluoride, and regular dental care, older adults are more prone to oral cavity damage and tissue infection, wrote the authors, an interdisciplinary group of dental and medical experts from UConn Health. 

To protect residents, nursing facilities should identify individuals at high risk and educate staff on how to provide oral hygiene care, added lead author Patrick Coll, M.D.

“Even tooth brushing for those who have poor oral hygiene can cause bacteria to be released into the bloodstream, and these bacteria can potentially cause joint infections and heart valve infections,” said Coll, a professor of family medicine at UConn School of Medicine.

The review highlights these oral hygiene facts:

  • Older adults are twice as likely to get cavities as younger adults.
  • As many as 64% of older adults in the U.S. have periodontitis, a serious gum infection.
  • Tooth loss can affect a person’s ability to chew, which can lead to malnutrition. 
  • Chronic oral infection is a recognized risk factor for heart disease, and can also lead to the spread of infection to artificial joints and endocardial implants such as artificial heart valves.
  • Patients with dementia – particularly those with advanced dementia – may neglect their oral health and may be reluctant to see a dental hygienist.

The review was recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.