Oral health and nutrition

The possible causes for a reduced appetite for an ageing person are associated with depression, forgetfulness and/or pain. For a person with dementia, the reasons extend to reduced coordination, changes in sensory and taste, swallowing difficulties, being easily distracted and possible lack of recognition of hunger. 

The recommendations to encourage interest in food include

  • regularly offering small portions 
  • Provide nutrition-dense meals
  • Fortify food with extra energy
  • Encourage exercise
  • Reduce distractions (for example: Serve food one at a time, use designated plain colour plates, and turn the television off)

The process of safe and efficient swallowing relies on the physiological structures to work correctly with the support of relevant information being transmitted to the brain. If swallowing is not performed successfully (aspiration), food and liquid can – unfortunately – be misdirected into the trachea (airway) rather than into the oesophagus. Sometimes when aspiration happens, the person may cough, present shortness of breath, and weakness.

Aspiration pneumonia is one of the dementia-related health problems that is associated with poor oral health. As well as aspiration pneumonia, candidiasis (‘thrush’) – a frequent and painful infection- may also occur. To reduce adults’ risk for aspiration pneumonia, is having a clean mouth and healthy teeth/dentures. Moreover, people with dementia are at increased risk for developing a lung infection and aspiration pneumonia, especially when one’s immune system is weakened by disease or medications. 

Clinical investigators in Japan researched a practice which saw the effectiveness of detailed cleaning of residents’ teeth (and denture care) and weekly removal of dental plaque and calcium deposits from saliva. The benefits included reduced fevers, fewer risks of pneumonia in patients, reduced deaths and increased cough reflex sensitivity.

Oral health can dramatically affect the quality of a person’s life, affecting such things as chewing, swallowing, speaking, facial aesthetics, and social interaction. 

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