Elderly encouraged to make dental health a priority


Apart from diabetes and hypertension, tooth loss is among the issues that the elderly should not overlook to prevent impacts on their physical and mental health, says WHO.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) stipulates that people aged above 80 years should have at least 20 teeth so they can consume food, talk or smile normally.

The organisation noted people aged 35-44 years have about 28 teeth. The average number of teeth drops 18 when at age 56, and to 10 teeth at age 80, said WHO.

Dental health challenges

In Thailand, the Bureau of Dental Health said a project to ensure that those aged above 80 years in nine provinces will have at least 20 teeth is challenging.

Only 50% of seniors aged above 80 years in Phrae, Lamphun, Buriram, Maha Sarakham, Nakhon Pathom, Singburi, Surat Thani, Pattani and Bangkok have 20 teeth.

Of 590 seniors in Singburi, 236 have good dental health, 193 have problems with dentures or tooth implants, and 161 need to receive treatment immediately, for such things as periodontal disease or loose teeth.

"It is challenging because tooth decay and periodontal disease trigger tooth loss among seniors," said Sutha Jiaramaneechotichai, who is a bureau adviser.

He said the elderly with fewer than 20 teeth are at risk of malnutrition and choking on food, with some suffering bloated stomachs and lung inflammation due to difficulties in chewing.

Even if they boil or steam food to make it easy to consume, it could lose vitamins and minerals due to heat, he said.

Sutha said the elderly also faced challenges in travelling to medical centres because of long distances or lack of relatives' support.

The bureau is encouraging people of all ages to brush their teeth at least two minutes in the morning and before bedtime, and avoid eating within two hours after brushing to ensure fluoride's efficiency.

"Apart from good dental health, seeing dentists at least once a year can mitigate expense burdens," said Ngamjit Phranet, a nurse at a health station in Singburi's Pikun Thong subdistrict.

Elderly encouraged to make dental health a priority

Impact on mental health

Meanwhile, Mahidol University's Department of Prosthodontics said more than 50% of seniors aged 60-74 faced tooth loss due to lack of awareness on taking care of dental health since childhood.

"Tooth loss affects physical and mental health as the elderly will lose confidence in spending their daily life or socialising with others," department head Chuchai Anunmana said.

He assumed that most seniors spend their time alone at home because of loss of confidence to talk or smile, adding that this could result in mental disorders.

To tackle this issue, Chuchai said the university's Faculty of Dentistry and Haleon, a British multinational consumer health-care company, are continuing their campaign to receive donations for providing dental implants to vulnerable seniors.