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Dental Care for Older Patients

There is a growing concern among health professionals about the quality of oral care among older people. So why is this and how to maintain an optimal oral care for the elderly?

A recent study by Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland has revealed that over half of the country’s older population have failed to visit a dentist for at least three years.

With over 100 patients involved in the study and with an average age of 79, the researchers showed that just over 50% of the patients had not attended a dentist for three years.

The majority of patients assumed they didn’t need to visit a dentist as they had little to no teeth left.

A previous study found that 41% of older people have no teeth, while those with teeth had on average eight teeth.

While it is common to assume there is little need to attend regular dental appointments if you have little to no teeth, regular visits can help highlight any potential risks such as oral cancer and other mouth diseases.

Another reason for the limited number of check-ups in older patients is the fact that they are far less likely to attend regular dental check-ups if they have been diagnosed with a cognitive ailment, such as dementia.

Tooth loss

But lack of teeth and poor oral care can result in more severe issues, such as difficulty chewing which directly impacts their dietary and overall health needs.

Among the other issues raised were the lack of awareness of entitlements to treatment and lack of access to dental surgeries above ground level.

So, just how can we help change this outdated view of dentistry and oral care;

“One way to achieve this may be to provide targeted education at geriatric out-patient clinics, both to patients and relatives/carers, which explains the importance of regular attendance, even in people with no teeth. In this setting, it would also be fruitful to inform patients about oral hygiene, as well as their entitlements to dental access/treatments,” the researchers said. “In particular, dental services should move away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach, and instead, be tailored to the individual needs of patients. Dentists would also benefit from additional training in the care of an older population,” – Trinity College Dublin

What steps can you take to help maintain a healthy mouth?

Gum Disease

If plaque has stays on teeth for too long, it can become a hard and harmful substance known as tartar, which cannot be cleaned by regular brushing alone. The longer plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more damage it will cause, resulting in swollen gums and bleeding – otherwise known as gingivitis.

If this remains untreated, it can cause your gums to eventually pull away from your teeth and form pockets that can become infected, which is known as periodontitis. If you put off treatment, an infection can ruin bones, gum and the tissue that help support your teeth.

A few simple steps can help keep your mouth healthy;

  • Be sure to brush twice daily using fluoride toothpaste in order to strengthen and protect teeth
  • Floss regularly
  • Use mouthwash
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • If you smoke, quit or at least try cut down
  • Make sure you replace your toothbrush every two to four months.
  • Schedule regular dental check-ups with your dentist and/or hygienist

Replace Old Dentures

Cartoon of 2 elderly holding dentures

Quite often, dentures can lead to a reduced sense of confidence, since eating, talking, laughing, and even sneezing can cause dentures to become loose.

In an attempt to combat this, many people enlist the help of denture glues and pastes as a temporary solution. However, dentures won’t prevent bone resorption and can, in fact, worsen the condition.

Essentially, this means that the facial structure can begin to deteriorate and accelerate the visible signs of aging. Over time, dentures may become loose and uncomfortable to wear.

One way of avoiding this is by dental implants, which look and function like normal teeth, as well as protect against further deterioration of the jawbone. In some cases, a fixed bridge may be your best option, allowing you to eat and laugh in comfort without the fear of your teeth coming loose.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is quite common among people over the age of 40. The best way to find any potential early sign of oral cancer is with regular dental check-ups.

Even if you have lost all our own natural teeth, it’s still vital you continue to have regular appointments with your dentist. Where possible, cut down on smoking, drink alcohol in moderation and use lip cream when in the sun.

To conclude

A good oral hygiene is a must, even if you have little teeth left. Plan a yearly visit to the dentist in order to prevent future problems.