Dental care for seniors involves unique considerations. Seniors are more likely to suffer from a host of oral health issues resulting from the natural aging process, their inability to receive proper oral health care due to financial constraints (no dental insurance) or their inability to provide adequate dental hygiene care for themselves.
These factors, combined with the limited dental benefits provided by state aid programs for the aged, blind or disabled, leave many seniors at risk of ignoring tooth decay and tooth infection until there is no alternative but tooth extraction – which is the only dental procedure covered by many state aid programs such as Medicaid or Medicare.
1 Tooth Loss, Periodontal Disease and Other Dental Concerns for Seniors
Prior to tooth loss, seniors may experience tooth sensitivity or discoloration due to a loss of enamel and dentin (hard, calcareous tissue beneath the enamel), or root deterioration caused by gum recession. Seniors are more prone to periodontal disease (gum disease) resulting from improper dental hygiene practices, poor diet, ill-fitting dental appliances and/or diseases such as cancer or diabetes. In fact, the supporting bone structure for the teeth, including the jaw, may shift, which can play havoc on a senior’s bite and may contribute to tooth decay. Seniors are also more likely to suffer from inflammation of gum tissue, dry mouth syndrome (often caused by medications) or oral thrush (a fungal disease causing ulcers and whitish spots on membranes of the mouth due to its effect on the immune system).
Dental Hygiene for Seniors
- Brush, floss and rinse with mouthwash properly to maintain dental hygiene, as instructed by your dentist.
- Look into special toothbrushes to clean hard-to-reach areas of the mouth.
- Know the warning signs that indicate your mouth, teeth or gums may be in jeopardy, including tooth sensitivity, teeth grinding, pain, mouth sores, bumps, swelling, loose teeth, jaw popping or clicking, difficulty quenching thirst, swallowing or chewing (dry mouth syndrome).
- Visit your dentist as often as he or she recommends for regular dental hygiene checkups.
- Maintain dental appliances such as dentures and dental bridges properly.
- Consider seeing your dentist before and after surgery.
- Tell your dentist about any medications that you are taking or changes to medication.
- If brushing and flossing are difficult for you, try to elongate the toothbrush with tongue depressors or something similar, or ask for assistance. You may also try using a soft washcloth or gauze to remove debris from the teeth, rinsing frequently. Use this method until you are able to brush your teeth again. People suffering from arthritis or a similar medical condition that limits manual dexterity can try inserting the back end of a toothbrush into a standard tennis ball for better maneuverability. Your dentist may recommend other such innovations designed to make the practice of oral hygiene simple and effective.