As we age, our dental concerns change. Kids have different dental concerns than adults (losing all those baby teeth, establishing good oral hygiene habits and catching orthodontic issues early, to name a few), while seniors have different dental concerns than they did when they were thirty.
Some geriatric dental problems have become cliche, like the misconception that all senior citizens need dentures. Still other concerns might seem obvious, like arthritis or mobility issues making regular dental care more difficult than in the past.
But there are other dental care concerns older adults should make themselves aware.
8 Common Dental Problems for Seniors and How to Treat Them
Here’s a list of eight common geriatric dental problems and their treatments.
1. Gum disease
Nearly every adult will have gum disease in their lifetime, though it’s usually the treatable and reversible form of gingivitis. But older adults can get more severe and lasting forms of gum disease. While this might not sound like a serious issue short term, many studies have linked gum disease to other medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Gum disease treatment is the best way to return to a healthy mouth. Seniors should take extra care to stay current with their regular exams and cleanings. They should also try their best to stick to good oral hygiene routines.
For seniors that struggle with arthritis pain or other mobility issues, working with an occupational therapist may help to develop new brushing habits. A geriatric dentist will also have good strategies for seniors who struggle to maintain regular brushing and flossing.
2. Tooth darkening
Darkened or yellowed teeth are a natural part of aging and a common dental problem for seniors. The foods we eat over time tend to stain (especially for coffee or tea drinkers) teeth, and tooth enamel can thin and show the bone underneath.
Much of this concern for seniors is cosmetic, though thinning enamel can also cause greater sensitivity as well. Ask your dentist about treatments for darkening or yellowed teeth, like teeth whitening. Porcelain dental veneers might be an option, and a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth can also lessen sensitivity.
3. Dental implants, bridges and crowns
The loss of or weakening of teeth with old fillings in senior patients could result in the need for dental implants, bridges and crowns. For some seniors, these procedures can be cost prohibitive on their insurance plans or tightened retirement budgets. Implants can also be especially tricky in geriatric patients due to bone loss and the need for more extensive treatment time.
Geriatric patients should speak to their dentist when their treatment plans call for this kind of work. A reputable dental office will also help you work with your insurance company to understand the scope of your benefits. Working together, you should be able to map out a treatment plan that makes the most sense for your current situation.
4. Prescription medications
Prescription medications can cause many adverse side effects in the mouth, including bad taste, bad breath and dry mouth. For seniors especially, many medications can make it difficult to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Talk to your family doctor to make sure your prescription combination is the right one for you. For excessive dry mouth or bad breath, your dentist may be able to prescribe or recommend a mouthwash that can help. You’ll also want to increase your hydration and make sure to stick with your regular oral care routine.
5. Side effects and symptoms from illness
Not only can prescription medications cause oral health issues for seniors, weakened immune systems from illness or disease can have adverse effects.
Thrush is a common side effect due to weakened immune systems from diseases like diabetes of cancer. Thrush is an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans that naturally occurs in the body. Patients will notice what appears to be a strange white rash in the mouth, which can hurt or bleed. Some patients also report sore throat or the feeling of something being stuck in the throat.
Thrush is treatable with an anti-fungal rinse or lozenge. Some seniors may only experience thrush during an illness, but others with weakened immune systems may regularly get this overgrowth. Talk to your dentist to come up with a plan for regular treatment and prevention.
6. Root decay
As we age, our gums tend to recede, leaving the root exposed to acids. Roots are not protected by enamel and are more prone to decay. Root decay can lead to tooth loss and other dental issues for seniors.
Root decay can be prevented with regular teeth cleanings. A hygienist may need to perform deep cleaning or scaling to keep roots in good health. Your dentist may also paint on a protective varnish. Rinsing regularly with a fluoride mouthwash can also help prevent root decay.
7. Tooth loss
As patients get older, sometimes tooth loss occurs, especially when there is the presence of gum disease. Tooth loss might also happen in teeth that have had root canals or no longer have good structure (in the case of large fillings or crowns).
In some cases, remaining teeth can drift and cause uneven jawbone in patients, making it difficult to chew or bite down. Tooth loss can be mitigated by partial or full dentures, bridges, or even dental implants when the bone is healthy.
Many older patients have dentures. Dentures can sometimes be a great relief to a patient who has struggled for years with tooth decay, tooth loss or other dental issues. Dentures, however, can cause some issues in older patients.
When dentures don’t fit well, they can rub and cause sores in the mouth. Some patients might also get stomatitis, which is an inflammation of the tissue underneath the denture. Stomatitis is caused by ill-fitting dentures or poor hygiene.
Talk to your dentist and ask for an adjustment if dentures don’t seem to be fitting well. And, of course, always take care to keep your dentures and tissues in good health.
Elderly patients can maintain good oral health and prevent geriatric dental problems by following the positive habits of their youth. Brushing and flossing twice a day, regular checkups, avoiding smoking and getting plenty of fluids can help to prevent or ease symptoms from dental aging.
See a dentist who specializes in geriatric dentistry or talk to your general dentist if you have concerns about your oral health as you age. Many patients who are proactive about their dental health in their early years enjoy healthy mouths in their senior years. It’s never too early to practice great habits!
Remember: The above information should be used as general guidelines and should not be substituted for medical advice. If you have a dental issue you should contact our skilled dentists right away for a dental exam.
Dental Care for Senior Citizens in Columbus Ohio
Maintaining good oral health into your golden years is an important part of your overall health. Capstone Dental works with many geriatric dental patients to treat the concerns of aging. Contact us to schedule your next visit!