Seniors are categorized as individuals over 65. This demographic is growing every year. It is predicted that by 2060 every fourth American will be a senior.
Geriatric dentistry is going to grow in importance immensely in the near future. Being aware of elders’ dental problems and how to deal with them is more important now than ever before.
What puts seniors at higher risk of dental problems?
It is not age itself that makes the elderly more vulnerable to certain dental conditions. Risk factors include:
The average elder takes 4-5 prescription drugs and 2-3 OTC products regularly. Many of those can cause oral issues. Inhalers in particular can lead to fungal infections in your mouth.
Senile dementia, Alzheimer, and eating disorders all make proper oral care difficult. As a result, mentally ill patients often neglect oral hygiene and are 3 times more likely to lose teeth.
Many elders are physically incapable of taking care of their mouth properly. Illnesses that come with age, for example osteoporosis, make vigorous brushing and precise flossing difficult.
How is seniors’ dental health connected to systemic diseases?
The state of your mouth is closely linked to your general health. Many systemic diseases can be caused by dental issues.
On the other hand, many conditions that affect the entire body have manifestations in the mouth. This means a dentist might be the first to spot the problem.
What are the most common elderly dental problems?
Tooth decay is painful and may lead to further complications, such as sensitivity, abscesses, or an increased risk of breakage. It is one of the most common elderly dental problems.
Cavities show up as permanently damaged areas on the hard, outer area of the tooth. With time, small holes and openings form that can lead to disease of the pulp and eventually death of the tooth.
Seeing the dentist regularly for exams and cleanings allows them to catch cavities when they are small, easier, and cheaper to fix.Causes:
- poor oral hygiene,
- not getting enough fluoride,
- dry mouth,
- sugary and acidic foods.
- counteraction to the above-mentioned reasons,
- dental fillings,
- dental crowns,
Untreated periodontitis (gum disease) causes bone loss and makes soft tissues to pull away from teeth, creating empty spaces around them. That’s why this is a leading reason for tooth loss.
Bacteria and food debris then accumulates in the empty “pockets” and causes painful infections. The most common symptoms are inflammation, bad breath, and bleeding when brushing or flossing teeth.
Gum disease can also be responsible for many general conditions, among them heart issues.Causes:
- poor oral hygiene,
- visit a dentist for a therapeutic SRP,
- improve oral hygiene.
The average older adult has 19 teeth. Tooth loss strongly affects nutrition. People without natural teeth tend to avoid some foods, including raw fruits and vegetables.
Visible dentition defects can also lower self-esteem and make people less social. This is particularly true as lack of teeth clearly alters the shape of the face, making people look older.
Tooth loss is not a natural part of aging, contrary to what some might think. It is perfectly plausible to have natural dentition as a senior. Edentulism is a result of dental issues that can and should be treated.Causes:
- gum disease,
- tooth decay,
Reduced saliva flow is more common among seniors than in any other age group. Lack of spit puts you at a much higher risk of getting gum disease, cavities, and other mouth infections. It also leads to trouble with speaking, swallowing, and wearing dentures.Causes:
- cancer treatment,
- side effect of many medications,
- chronic diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease,
- using tobacco,
- stay hydrated,
- avoid alcoholic mouthwash,
- suck on sugar-free candies or gum,
- breathe through your nose,
- use Biotene or other OTC products for dry mouth.
Thrush is characterized by a white rash inside the mouth. It is a yeast infection, which can also occur in other places on the body. The candida fungus resides in your mouth naturally, but some medications can upset the balance, causing this condition.Causes:
- corticosteroids or antibiotics intake (common after dental surgery),
- uncontrolled diabetes,
- poor oral hygiene,
- not removing/cleaning your prosthesis daily.
- antifungal medications that you take for 10-14 days.
Oral cancer shows up in the mouth as a sore or lump that doesn’t go away. It can focus on any soft tissues including the tongue, cheeks, lips, the palate, and the pharynx. Early diagnosis is vital, as this does not have to be a life-threatening disease.
Oral cancer is the eighth most common type in the world.Causes:
- excessive drinking of alcohol,
- family history of cancer,
- using snuff.
- surgery to remove the lump followed by radiation,
- or chemotherapy.
What are the best dental care tips for seniors?
Elderly dental care is very important but also neglected very often. Do your best to keep your mouth strong and healthy by following these oral hygiene tips.
Maintain dental hygiene
Clean your mouth and gums properly every day. Use fluoride toothpaste and drink fluoridated water to remineralize your teeth and neutralize your mouth. Consider an electric toothbrush as it makes up most of the brushing action.
Visit a dentist regularly
Have your mouth checked out at least once a year, advised by the ADA. Your dentist will examine your dentures and teeth, perform an oral cancer screening, and help plan out potential dental work.
Take care of your dentures
Clean your denture often and wash your hands before putting it in to prevent infections, lesions, and rubbing. Remember to also let a professional inspect it systematically. This helps make sure it doesn’t need relining.
Do not smoke cigarettes
Popular methods include nicotine patches or gum, counseling, and hypnosis. Patients often go for a combination. You can find more information on SmokeFree.gov.
Keep a balanced diet
The following minerals and vitamins should be a part of your diet: calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins K, C, and A. Spinach, broccoli, and kale are rich in those substances.
Control your alcohol intake
Drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week and have at least a few regular drink-free days. Don’t brush your teeth immediately after acidic drinks such as wine, as it can cause damage to the enamel.