A great challenge for the dental service is to support the growing group of elderly people with preserving good oral health throughout their lives. Limitations in the ability to manage oral hygiene and an increased number of risk factors are often reflected by poor oral health. Thus, the need for individualized support and oral health procedures based on the older person’s condition is significant. Deficiencies in the motor skills needed to manage oral hygiene are well known, but other factors that affect the ability are not well studied. The aim of the present study was to identify factors that may affect an elderly person’s ability to perform oral hygiene self-care, which is the first step to develop a more comprehensive “oral hygiene ability index.” The design of the study was qualitative. Data were collected from 4 focus group interviews with a total of 23 participants. Three of the groups consisted of dental hygienists, occupational therapists, and assistant nurses, all working with elderly persons. The fourth group was made up of elderly people (72–89 years). Content analysis was used to analyze the data. The latent content was formulated into the core category, “oral hygiene—a complex activity.” Three categories emerged: “psychological,” “environmental,” and “functional” dimensions. The psychological dimension described attitude/motivation, emotions, and cognitive factors. The environmental dimension included practical conditions and social context. The functional dimension dealt with bodily and oral function as well as the senses. In conclusion, self-care with respect to oral hygiene is a complex activity for elderly persons and includes a large number of factors. These factors should be taken into consideration when developing a future oral hygiene ability index.
Knowledge Transfer Statement: Various factors may affect the ability to manage oral hygiene self-care. Impaired ability to manage oral hygiene, in combination with an increased number of risk factors, often results in deteriorating oral health and impaired quality of life in older persons. Factors necessary to manage oral hygiene were identified in a qualitative study of dental hygienists, occupational therapists, and assistant nurses, all working with elderly patients, and a group of elderly persons. The results of this study may be important for clinical oral health work with older patients and for the planning of oral health and social care interventions for the growing group of older people.
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