The importance of oral health
Think about the mouth like a doormat to the body. Each time you walk through your door, if your doormat is dirty, you take all those items with you into your house, making an unclean house. The same works for your body. Food and drink entering our mouth picks up any harmful bacteria that is already sitting in our mouth e.g. on our tongue, inside of our cheeks, behind our teeth. Additionally, food that sits in our mouth can build up and encourage growth of bacteria. While some bacteria is good, maintaining good oral health helps us protect our whole body from harmful bacteria.
For those individuals with dysphagia (swallowing difficulty) this is even more important, as there is a greater risk that their food and drink will enter their lungs (aspiration) and potentially cause an infection. Residents of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, are prone to poor oral health and dental disease, and are therefore at a greater risk of this type of infection. Furthermore, many individuals will need support from their care team or family to complete an effective oral health routine.
Undertaking a regular oral care routine ensures that harmful bacteria and food and drink build-up are regularly removed from the mouth, promoting a healthy body.
No teeth, no worries? False! People without teeth still need to maintain good oral hygiene, harmful bacteria can build up anywhere in the mouth, not just on teeth! If a person has dentures, these should also be cleaned daily and soaked overnight, remembering to also clean the inside of the person’s mouth.
What is a good oral care routine?
- Oral care should occur at least 2 times per day: In the morning after breakfast, and in the evening after dinner. Some health professionals may recommend more than this depending on the individual
- Provide support if required. If you are supporting someone with their oral health, make sure to sit in a position that works for them
- Have regular dental check-ups
Oral health is important for everybody, and especially those individuals who have a swallowing difficultly. If you or somewhere you care about has a swallowing difficulty, check in to see how their oral hygiene routine is going, even if they don’t have teeth!
Pace, C., & McCullough, G. (2010). The Association Between Oral Microorgansims and Aspiration Pneumonia in the Institutionalized Elderly: Review and Recommendations. Dysphagia, 25(4), 307–322. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00455-010-9298-9