Watching your grandparents eat probably isn’t on the list of things you were looking forward to doing this festive season.
But Christmas dinner could be the perfect opportunity to check out your elderly relatives’ oral health.
Dentists have said a big family get-together, like December 25 lunch, is the perfect opportunity to check up on the state of pensioners’ teeth.
Avoiding hard foods, or eating or speaking differently, could be a sign they have potentially serious mouth problems they ought to see a dentist about, experts said.
The NHS has also suggested people look for warning signs of dementia and depression in their loved ones this Christmas.
Getting the family together at Christmas presents an ideal opportunity to check on your elderly relatives’ teeth to see if they are showing signs of problems that need a dentist’s attention, according to the Royal College of Surgeons (stock image)
Professor Michael Escudier, a dental specialist at the Royal College of Surgeons, advises people quiz their older relatives on when they last went to the dentist.
‘Bring up the fact “I was with the children and went to the dentist”,’ he told The Times.
‘And [ask them] “Who do you see now?”. If she says she doesn’t see anyone, it might give you a clue she is overdue a visit.’
Professor Escudier warned tooth problems can be more serious than they seem. They can cause pain, make it difficult for people to eat – meaning they go hungry or become malnourished – and lead to infections.
Gum disease, which can be triggered by the build-up of plaque on the teeth, has even been linked to a raised risk of heart disease and lung problems.
Older people who live alone, or do not have carers that check on their teeth regularly, are most likely to have problems that go unnoticed.
Professor Escudier said: ‘It can also severely impact on a person’s quality of life – if they are in pain or struggling to speak, it’s unlikely they will want to socialise, which can be very isolating.’
POOR ORAL HYGIENE RAISES BLOOD PRESSURE
Brushing and flossing your teeth could prevent you from developing high blood pressure, a study claimed in October.
Researchers said those who have healthier gums and little tooth decay have lower blood pressure.
Patients with high blood pressure and inflamed gums are 20 per cent less likely to have their blood pressure in a healthy range compared to patients with no signs of periodontal disease.
The team, from the University of L’Aquila in Italy, said the findings show patients with hypertension may benefit from routine dental care.
‘Physicians should pay close attention to patients’ oral health and urge those with signs of periodontal disease to seek dental care,’ said lead author Dr Davide Pietropaoli.
‘Likewise, dental health professionals should be aware that oral health is indispensable to overall physiological health.’
A good way to notice whether something might be wrong is to see whether someone’s speech has changed or whether they are struggling to eat properly.
And just because they have dentures it does not mean they do not need to visit the dentist, Professor Escudier added.
‘Dentures don’t go on for ever,’ he said. ‘If you have had them for four or five years, they might need realigning or adjusting.’
The advice comes after a report released earlier this year revealed the majority of older people living in supported accommodation have problems with their oral hygiene.
Some 70 per cent of them have noticeable plaque on their teeth, while another 61 per cent have hardened plaque, the Public Health England report suggested.
Up to four in ten said they felt pain when being examined by a dentist and a third worried they would not be able to get up stairs to a dentist’s office.
And research published in 2014 by University College London found losing teeth is a sign of worsening mental and physical health in older people.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, analysed data from more than 3,100 over-60s in England.
It found people who had lost all their natural teeth performed about 10 per cent worse in walking speed and memory tests compared with people who still had them.
When people are spending time with their older, and potentially more isolated, relatives, they should also be mindful of warning signs about their mental health.
Problems like depression and early signs of dementia might be easier to spot during the festive period.
Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia and older people’s mental health, said: ‘Dementia is an insidious disease that develops slowly and may go unnoticed in people we see every day.
‘As families and friends get together over Christmas, there is an opportunity to spot warning signs that may have been missed.
‘There are lots of reasons why people might be forgetful or absent-minded at such a busy time of the year but it could also be the sign that something can be wrong. The important thing is to look for changes in normal behaviour.’
Anyone worried about a family member should encourage them to see a GP or offer to take them themselves, Professor Burns said.