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Geriatric Dentistry

Updated: Mar 17

Recently, I have noticed that many patients have been bringing in their elderly parents for dental checkups. This is a great idea since it appears that a good percentage of the elderly have been remiss in their personal oral hygiene.

As we age, “senior moments” (of forgetfulness) become more and more common. Not recalling important faces, names and appointments may be the beginning signs but it can soon be followed by chronic forgetfulness or depression. Adding to this are physical challenges such as arthritis and fatigue that can produce limited mobility. And before you know it, your loving lively spitfire parent has become an uncooperative recluse. They rarely leave the house and have little interest in maintaining their health. Not only will their physical and mental health decline, but their dental health will also take its toll. Managing a toothbrush may be a physical hardship or intellectually it may not even register. And with the rising number of medications that most seniors take daily, oral side effects (dry mouth causing rampant decay and periodontal disease) can quickly lead to frequent dental infections and loss of teeth.

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It was only a century ago that the average lifespan was about 35 years old. Living past the age of 40 was somewhat of an oddity, as most people usually succumbed to infections or accidental death. But due to advances in modern medicine, we are all living way past the age of our ancestors, and many of us in not so great health.

There are about 33 million people over the age of 75 in the US and this number is growing fast as baby boomers lead the way. Most people in this age bracket have periodontal disease or are already missing teeth. And the adage that the mouth is a reflection of the health of the body, is especially true for our older patients. If they have infected teeth or no teeth, eating nourishing food will definitely be difficult.

While geriatric dentistry is not a designated specialty, there are many who think it should be. This is largely because of the complexity of the issues involved in treating this older segment of the population. Rather than thinking about the advancing chronological age of the patient, we need to think about the medical complexity of the individual. Cancer, hypertension, diabetes, depression, arthritis and even memory issues are at the top of the list. In addition, there are the effects of many prescription medicines and their drug interactions.

The geriatric population may include your parents or neighbors. Many have outlived their family members and live alone. They deserve a lot of attention and TLC (tender loving care) so it is really important that they visit the dentist regularly. Their oral condition needs to be monitored frequently so that their health can be optimal.

It is always best that they see a dentist who understands the implications of their many health facets. Most elderly do not complain, but that doesn’t mean that all is well in their mouth. Even if they have no teeth, mouth screenings still need to be done to evaluate for oral cancer, vitamin deficiencies, and mouth sores. Dentures still need to be checked annually as they tend to loosen over time due to bone and gum resorption.

Going to the dentist when things hurt is usually too late. As a routine, geriatric patients should be coming for regular dental visits just like the rest of us. So next time you make an appointment for yourself, consider making one for your elderly neighbor or relative. Offer to come with them. Not only will you be helping them, but you will also be setting a good example for your friends, colleagues and children.

Our elders took good care of us when we were children. Now it is our turn to return the favor. Neglecting our geriatric population is not a solution. Be the person in charge and do the right thing. Someone will be sure to return the favor when you need it.

Dental Care for Senior Citizens

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