What Makes Older Dental Patients Needs Different?

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Older Dental Patients

For most of us, dentistry is simply dentistry, regardless of patient age. This, however, is just untrue. Each age group faces specific problems and has unique needs, but when we think of geriatric dental care, what comes to mind? Dentures. Unfortunately, providing dental care to seniors is much more complicated and expensive than simply wearing dentures. Healthy gums and teeth impact a person’s overall well being so it is imperative that dentists receive the proper training when taking care of older patients. 

Unlike their younger counterparts, older adults use a much higher amount of prescription drugs, as ordered by their doctors. There is, of course, nothing many people can do about this, but the frequency of drug use among people aged 65 and older can cause unique side effects. Xerostemia, or dry mouth, already common for older patients, is much more likely to occur in people with an intake of four or more daily prescriptions. Dry mouth, at first more of a nuisance, can lead to both minor and major health problems. Some common complaints include a burning sensation, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, trouble speaking, and general hoarseness. It is also an underlying cause of tooth loss, gum disease, plaque buildup, and dental caries. Xerostemia can be treated, but the problem is that many seniors simply do not see a dentist. 

Once people retire and lose workplace benefits, dental care becomes an out of pocket expense. Sadly, many people do not receive the dental care they need. They are either unable to afford it, or do not see dental care as a necessary expense. For those living in institutional settings like assisted living or nursing homes, oral health is rarely provided at all. Although there is a law requiring oral healthcare for nursing home residents, there is no definition as to what constitutes neglect so it is incredibly difficult to enforce. 

For people with preexisting health conditions, access to dental health becomes even more important. Dentists are aware that preexisting conditions can exacerbate dental issues along with dental issues making certain health conditions worse. They should also be aware that oral examinations sometimes point towards undiscovered health problems.  The mouth can provide evidence of liver disease, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, arthritis, and more. 

The correlation between gum and heart disease has long been noted, but that’s not the only area impacted by periodontal disease. According to diabetes.org, gum disease may affect blood glucose control, thus contributing to the progression of diabetes. Many people are unaware the risk factors are the same. Smoking, being overweight, diet, stress, and lack of exercise cause problems in both departments. For those with diabetes, gum disease can become more serious and the risk of fatal heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease increases. With such alarming facts, it becomes more surprising Medicare does not fund oral health for seniors. Even without diabetes or gum disease, in some cases, something as simple as a toothache can lead to major problems. The bacteria from an untreated tooth infection can infect the heart’s inner lining and valves in what is known as bacterial endocarditis. Once bacteria gets into the bloodstream, it could become serious enough to damage heart valves. 

Beyond physical connections, oral health has also been linked to cognitive health.  With all of the evidence pointing towards a two-way street between overall health and dental health, geriatric dental care takes on a whole new importance. If you or a loved one cannot afford dental health, click here for some tips on how to find the most affordable care possible. With constantly evolving research making the case for the necessity of dental care, hopefully Medicare changes their funding rules to include dental health. They need to act soon to keep up with the influx of new retirees.