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Practical Guidelines for Physicians in Promoting Oral Health in Frail Older Adults

      Abstract

      Good oral health in old age is particularly important for maintaining adequate oral function, preventing pain and discomfort, controlling localized or systemic inflammation, sustaining social interaction, and preserving quality of life. Given that oral health is an integral part of general health and well-being, and that major chronic systemic and oral diseases share common risk factors, oral health prevention and promotion should be embedded within routine medical assessment and care provision. The role of medical physicians, particularly primary care physicians, geriatricians, and elderly care physicians, in community and long-term care facilities in assessing and promoting oral health in frail older adults is critical and has been emphasized in recent European recommendations. All physicians should appreciate the importance of oral health and incorporate an initial oral health screening into routine medical assessment and care. A short interview with patients and carers on current oral health practices may help to assess the risk for rapid oral health deterioration. The interview should be followed by an oral health assessment, using validated tools, for nondental health care providers. Based on these findings, the physician should decide on necessary follow-up procedures, which may include oral health counseling and/or dental referral. Oral health counseling should include advice on daily oral, mucosal, and denture hygiene; denture maintenance; dietary advice; smoking cessation; limitation of harmful alcohol consumption; management of xerostomia; and frequent dental review. To enable physicians to perform the tasks recommended in this publication, appropriate teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels must be delivered in addition to provision of appropriate continuing education courses.

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