What You Need to Know About Geriatric Dental Care
On the surface, when it comes to geriatric dental care the news is good: aging Americans are keeping their teeth longer into their lives, and maintaining more of them, too.
It’s definitely a victory for the dental health field that tooth removal and reliance on dentures is becoming less and less common. But the state of elderly dental care still has problems, and these are actually becoming more pronounced now that more elderly people are keeping their natural teeth.
Dentistry professionals are speaking out about the specific concerns relating to the oral health of the elderly. Dental insurance for elderly people tends to be worse than for younger people; retirees reliant on Medicaid in particular find themselves underserved when it comes to accessing inexpensive dental care.
Not seeing dentists enough is a big problem in an of itself, but there are also a host of issues specific to geriatric dental care that elderly people and their families need to be aware of.
Cavities in Elderly Patients
Tooth decay, or cavities, affects people of all ages. We can get cavities when we’re kids, adults, elderly, or anywhere in between. Yet older people are at particular risk. As we get older, our teeth become softer and more vulnerable. That means that even if your teeth have been very resistant to cavities for most of your life, it won’t necessarily be the case after you turn 50. You can develop cavities on new teeth that have never been affected by tooth decay or even around the sites of old cavity fillings.
Common Dry Mouth (Xerostomia) Causes in Elderly
Saliva works for our bodies in a lot of ways. It keeps our mouths well-lubricated and helps us chew and swallow food. But it also protects our teeth against decay. Saliva contains calcium and phosphate, which help keep your teeth strong and healthy. Unfortunately, many medications can stifle saliva production, leading to cases of dry mouth. The average older adult takes four or five different prescription medications, as well as numerous over-the-counter drugs. This means there’s a greater chance that an elderly person will be on medication that has a negative effect on his or her saliva production, which in turn leads to a higher risk of tooth decay and other oral problems.
Shifting Teeth in Elderly
Our teeth don’t just stay in one fixed position for our entire lives. As we age, our teeth tend to shift around in our mouths bit by bit. A misaligned bite that may have been corrected with braces when you were younger can become a problem again later in life, or you can develop new alignment problems like overcrowding. Misaligned teeth can lead to greater instances of decay when it becomes more difficult to clean them correctly. Wear and tear also worsens when teeth are not aligned properly.
Geriatric dental care is a field that requires special attention. Improved dental insurance for elderly people and the creation of community dentistry programs can help protect aging seniors against developing poor oral health.