Aging brings changes in all the organs, tissues, and cells of the body. These changes affect almost all parts of the body including the gums and teeth. Several problems are associated with aging gums and teeth. A long time of chewing, gnashing, grinding as well as general wear and tear accompanied by medical conditions, medications, and a potential reduction in dental care can give way to several oral health issues in elderly people. These issues may cause gum infection, bleeding gums, inflamed gums, or considerable tooth pain. Focusing this post on senior dental care, here are some common dental problems faced by the elderly that we should watch out for, as well as advice on prevention, management, and treatment of the problems.
Senior Dental Care – Common Elderly Dental Problems
1. Tooth Decay
Tooth decay can result in cavities that can cause infection, pain, and even loss of the tooth. The decay of teeth is often the result of a build-up of tartar and plaque.
A tendency of snacking between meals, a diet containing sugary foods, and a reduction in the production of saliva leads to the build-up of acid and sugar in the mouth.
Medical conditions can also play a considerable role. Tooth brushing, for example, can be a painful and hard job for people with arthritis, and it can appear to be a near-impossible job for those with dementia.
The best approach here is prevention. Drink water after every meal, lower the quantity of sugary food intake, and brush your teeth twice every day using fluoride toothpaste. Using an electric toothbrush in place of a conventional one is more effective and may be more user-friendly.
In case decaying tooth remains a concern, consult a dentist and discuss options like using fillings and crowns or fluoride rinse to beat advanced decay.
2. Receding Gums
The recession of gums is a slow process in which the gums shrink away from the teeth. The common causes are poor dental hygiene and gum diseases, although teeth grinding (also known as bruxism), family history, and smoking can also contribute to the condition.
The sensitivity of teeth may increase as the tooth root becomes exposed. The teeth may also appear to lengthen. If left untreated, the condition can lead to major damage to the oral tissues, tooth loss, and a heightened chance of developing gum disease.
Prevention is the best approach, and so, avoid sugary foods, quit smoking, and practice good oral hygiene.
If you are an older adult noticing signs of receding gums or have an elderly loved one with signs of the condition, consult a dentist at the earliest to talk about how to address the problem in the best way. The options of treatment range from scaling or deep cleaning to surgical procedures like gum grafts.
3. Gum Disease
Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is a commonly occurring oral issue caused by the bacteria in tartar and plaque. Smoking also has a major role to play. In later stages of this condition, the symptoms include bleeding, red, and irritated gums.
Gingivitis is gum inflammation because of the build-up of bacteria where the teeth and gum tissue meet. Gingivitis can develop to cause periodontitis – a serious gum infection that damages gum tissue as well as the bone supporting the teeth.
If chewing and swallowing abilities are impaired, additional gum health problems may also arise due to inadequate nutrition.
Fortunately, gum disease is treatable as well as preventable with proper senior dental care. Good dental hygiene habits to follow include brushing and flossing every day.
Meet the dentist in case an elderly loved one has any gum disease symptoms. They can offer a detailed evaluation and assessment as well as prepare a treatment plan.
4. Oral Cancer
The risk of oral cancer heightens with age. The risk is higher for people who drink alcohol or smoke frequently.
Visit the dentist and get a thorough oral check-up for older adults. Get the dentist check out any color changes in the tissue around or in the mouth of an older adult, or any persistent sores and ulcers.
Early identification can save the life of an older adult, so ensure regular dental examinations so that their gums and surrounding tissues are completely healthy.
5. Dry Mouth
With age, several people experience reduced saliva production, a common syndrome referred to as xerostomia or dry mouth. Dry mouth is also a side effect of several medications.
Decreased saliva production can give way to the build-up of acids and sugars more easily in the mouth. This can increase the chance of cavities and also lead to some of the issues like receding gums, gum disease, and tooth decay. It can also lead to a swollen tongue and cracked, dry lips, making swallowing and speaking difficult.
To offer senior dental care for beating these negative consequences, ensure that older adults avoid sugary drinks and foods, and drink water regularly. Lozenges and chewing gum can stimulate the production of saliva and mouth rinses can prevent the build-up of acid.
Paying for Senior Dental Care After Retirement
Many retirees do not know that routine dental care is not covered by Medicare. Older adults should start planning for their senior dental care expenses in advance of their retirement so that their dental health doesn’t suffer after they have a fixed income. Some organizations like AARP provide their members with supplemental dental insurance plans that can help seniors get affordable dental care.
Another option is to discount dental plans that typically involve a lower fee per month compared to traditional dental insurance. Here, senior adults choose a dentist in the plan network who offers certain dental services for seniors for a fee that’s 10-60 % less than the usual fee. The reduced fee needs to be paid out-of-pocket and no claim paperwork needs to be filled out.
The website of the National Association of Dental Plans is a good place to search for a dental plan for senior dental care. Several dentists offer low interest or no interest in dental plans for the elderly, which might be a better choice compared to paying for dental treatment on a household credit card that has a greater interest rate.
In case of concerns about continuing senior dental care because of a limited income, visit your dentist and discuss your concerns. They might be able to provide solutions.