20 March 2019

World Oral Health Day: Improving oral hygiene in care homes


Oral hygiene and bodily health are closely interlinked. The mouth serves as a 'window' to the rest of the human body, providing signals of general health disorders.

Over 700 different strains of bacteria have been detected in the human mouth. Normally the body's natural defences and good oral hygiene, such as daily brushing and flossing, assist in keeping these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.

What is oral health day?

World Oral Health Day is observed annually on 20th March and launches a year-long campaign dedicated to raising global awareness of the issues around oral health and the importance of oral hygiene so that governments, health associations and the general public can work together to achieve healthier mouths and happier lives.

Of the world's population, 90% will suffer from oral diseases in their lifetime, many avoidable.

Organised by FDI World Dental Federation, World Oral Health Day involves campaigns by national dental associations from around the world with activities in over 130 countries.

What illnesses are indicated by the mouth?

Several health conditions can be signified by the mouth, teeth and tongue. 

For instance, dry mouth can be due to certain health conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, yeast infection (thrush) in your mouth or Alzheimer's disease, or due to autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren's syndrome or HIV/AIDS. Snoring and breathing with your mouth open also can contribute to dry mouth. 

More than half of older adults who live in care homes have tooth decay, compared to 40% of over 75s who do not live in care homes.

Who is most at risk?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have identified the groups of individuals who may be at most risk in care settings. These are: 

  • Those with long-term conditions (including arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia) as such conditions can make it harder to hold and use a toothbrush and to go for dental treatment.
  • Individuals taking medicines to reduce the amount of saliva produced and leave people with a dry mouth.
  • People with their own teeth in old age. Elderly people now keep their natural teeth for longer, but this can mean they need more complex dental care than people who have dentures.

Thorough assessments and support from skilled and knowledgeable staff can help prevent the pain, disturbed sleep and health problems that poor oral health can cause.


How can I help to protect the oral health of those in my care? 

NICE offer the following advice:

  • Brush their natural teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean their dentures (brushing, removing food debris, removing dentures overnight).
  • Use their choice of cleaning products for dentures.
  • Use their choice of a toothbrush, either manual or electric/battery powered and mouth care products.

NICE’s guideline on oral health for adults in care homes, including the baseline assessment tool, can be used as part of your preparation for inspection and to support requests for help to other services.

Refer to Improving oral health for adults in care homes A quick guide for care home managers for additional guidance and information. 


Mayo Clinic