Geriatric Dental Care
Geriatric dentistry (dentistry for seniors), has dramatically increased since the 1900s. It is estimated that approximately 20% of the population are over the age of 65 currently. With the increase of the senior population and with better education and concern by this age group for their overall medical and dental health, seniors are retaining more of their teeth. Studies show that approximately 50% of people 55 years or older have at least 23 of their 32 natural teeth remaining. Oral Care survey* also found the following statistics:
- 70% of seniors that were surveyed reported that they had a regular dental checkup at least once per year.
- Seniors believed that healthcare is dramatically improving with every generation.
- 95% of seniors believe that healthy teeth and gums are very important to their overall health.
Certain conditions can occur in seniors that would not normally be found in younger individuals and that can affect the health of their teeth, as well as their overall physical well being. The following conditions that may be of concern and which should be evaluated by a dentist are:
- Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
- Tooth Wear and Excessive Staining
- Dental Decay (Root Surface)
- Gum Disease (Periodontal Disease)
- Loss or Alteration in Taste
- Denture Care
- Solutions for Missing teeth
Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
A condition common to the elderly whereby saliva flow is decreased. The causes can include certain medical conditions, certain medications such as antihistamines, pain relievers and decongestants, among others. Other causes can be ill fitting dental appliances such as full or partial dentures.
If a person allows this continued dry mouth condition to persist, there is an increase in the level of dental decay due to the increased level of bacterial colonies and plaque accumulations. The reason for this is that saliva has a natural bathing effect on teeth that helps decrease the level of bacteria from forming.
There is also a greater risk for periodontal disease due to the decreased level of saliva. Patients are urged to see their dentist and/or physician to evaluate this condition. Certain products are available that can help correct this condition such as artificial saliva replacement drops, oral rinses such as Biotene mouthrinse and Oral Balance a moisturizing oral rinse. Sugarless lemon drops have also been found to be an excellent saliva stimulant that can help increase saliva flow.
Tooth Wear and Excessive Staining
With the increased wear of teeth over the years, many seniors may notice an unaesthetic appearance. Teeth can become unsightly and can make one appear older than they really are. Teeth can also stain, especially since these areas of enamel wear are excellent places for debris and plaque to accumulate and stain over the years. Also, as the protective enamel wear occurs, the yellowish dentin is more apparent causing teeth to appear darker.
Hypersensitivity of teeth is also common causing unnecessary discomfort in patients.
Dental Decay (Root Surface)
As one ages, the incidence for decay can increase, especially root surface decay. The exposure of the tooth’s root surface occurs in seniors primarily from gum tissue receding as one ages. Root surfaces do not have a protective enamel layer and are primarily composed of softer cementum, which easily decays. Plaque and bacterial accumulation can collect on these surfaces increasing the risk for this type of decay. Since the root surface lacks enamel, decay can more easily penetrate the tooth’s pulp (nerve), which can cause endodontic (root canal) problems and in worst scenarios, tooth loss. Older fillings may also wear and fracture as one ages causing weakening or loss of teeth.
The most common cause of tooth loss in adults is gum disease. Bacteria create toxins which inflame and irritate gum tissue. Over the years, a slow progressive detachment occurs that affects the supporting bone, which dissolves. Tooth loss eventually results, especially if left untreated. The elderly are more prone to this condition as a result of smoking, poor diets, poor oral hygiene habits and certain medical conditions. It is imperative that one have regular dental checkups to determine if they have this condition.
Loss or Alteration in Taste
Many seniors experience the loss of their taste sensation as they age. This can occur as a normal result of aging. However, certain diseases andmedications can increase the incidence of taste loss. Ill fitting dentures or other removable dental appliances can increase the alteration of taste.
Patients should always notify their dentist and/or physician if they have any type of alteration or loss in their taste sensation. Many new and exciting treatment alternatives have been developed in dentistry over the years that can help seniors restore their teeth to a much more functional, healthy and youthful look.