Sonya Dunbar

To Recognize Victims of Poor Oral Health


When I put my grandmother in a long-term care facility, I noticed that most seniors needed oral care. Studies show that poor oral care is the number one killer in nursing homes.

After my grandmother passed on, I felt that it was my purpose in life to provide care for that population. One out of ten seniors dies because of aspiration pneumonia because of the bacteria in their mouth. 

So, I feel my purpose in life collided with my profession as a dental hygienist to spread the news about oral care and to take care of the residents who can’t take care of themselves anymore. Here are some of the things that I raise awareness about.

Routine Dental Visits

I cannot reiterate enough that routine dental visits are important because they can detect early-stage oral problems. 

Seniors should see professionals who specialize in dental treatment for seniors every 6 to 12 months, depending on their dental needs.  In addition, their caregivers should help them brush their mouths regularly. If they notice any bleeding or ulcers, they should prompt the senior to seek medical care.

In this blog entry, I will talk about the oral signs and symptoms which should never be ignored.

Localized Dental Pain

Dental caries is, most of the time, asymptomatic in its early stages. However, when the bacteria reach the parts inside the teeth (dentin and dental pulp), the affected tooth may become sensitive to hot and cold food.

This pain should not be taken lightly since it can indicate the presence of decay in a more advanced stage. 

Untreated cavities can infect the dental pulp and the nerve of the affected tooth, or even cause an abscess to form. A tooth abscess is an advanced infection that requires emergency intervention to avoid the complications it can cause.

An Ulcer or Lesion That Persists

A mouth ulcer is a type of sore that can be bothersome or even painful at times. However, it usually goes away on its own after a few days. 

Still, special attention should be paid to ulcers and other types of oral lesions that persist beyond 2 weeks.

Persistent lesions, whitish or reddish spots, and masses that form in the mucous membranes (soft tissues) of the mouth, when persistent, can be symptoms of oral cancer. 

If in doubt, see a dental professional quickly! Oral cancer is more likely to be treatable if it is taken care of quickly.

Chronic Bad Breath

We all suffer from bad breath from time to time, whether it is because of our diet or certain habits (smoking, alcohol consumption, etc.)

However, chronic bad breath, that is, one that is persistent or recurring, can be a sign of the presence of dental decay or disease of the gum or periodontium.

The proliferation of bacteria produces smelly gases that can cause bad breath.

Bleeding Gums

Bleeding gums, when brushing teeth and flossing, are the most common sign of gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. 

If the bleeding persists over several days, the senior may need to visit a professional help eradicate the bacteria and tartar causing the problem. 

Without proper treatment, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, a more advanced infection of the tissues. Left untreated, periodontitis can lead to more serious conditions.

Exposed gums could be a sign of gum recession, a condition that reduces the height and thickness of the gums. 

Gum recession should be treated with professional care in order to eradicate the factors that cause it. In more advanced cases, the dental professional may suggest a gum graft to protect the teeth.

Exposed Gums

Professionals know best

A dental professional who specializes in dental treatment for seniors is always present to reassure you in case of doubt.  The professionals will offer you the care that is necessary for the management of ailments that can affect the health of your smile.  

You can also invite Sonya Dunbar to offer training and give talks on how we can best take care of the oral health of seniors. Or read my book, the Tooth And Nothing But the Truth to get more insights on the topic.

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