Oral Health For Seniors
As you age your health concerns will change, and that is no different for your oral health. Dental care for seniors is especially important because age and medication makes older adults cavity prone. Furthermore, since oral health is connected to whole body health, it is even more important for seniors to make oral health a priority.
Oral Health Concerns for Seniors
Seniors are at higher risk for certain dental problems as they age. The following oral health concerns should be taken into account when addressing senior dental care.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva. It results in a dry and uncomfortable mouth. Saliva is important to the mouth because it helps to prevent infection. If the mouth does not have adequate saliva, excessive tooth decay may occur.
Dry mouth is a common side effect to many medications. Antihistamines, decongestants, and pain killers often list dry mouth as one of their side effects. Since seniors tend to be on one or several medications, dry mouth is a common dental concern for them.
Treatment for dry mouth may include changing medication or adding products to moisturize the mouth. Special mouth rinses and artificial saliva can help to bring relief to dry mouth. In more severe cases, medication can be prescribed to stimulate saliva production.
Gum disease is an infection of the tissue (gums) in the mouth. Untreated gum disease can lead to severe damage to the tooth tissue and tooth loss. With periodontal issues being prevalent in the older population, it is important for seniors to prevent and treat gum disease.
There are several factors that make seniors more at risk of gum disease. While genetics play a factor, diabetes, hormone changes, medications, and age all increase the risk of getting gum disease. In addition, there are also bad habits that can lead to gum disease. Smoking, lack of flossing, improper brushing techniques, and grinding teeth are all habits that impact dental health.
Symptoms of gum disease include redness, swelling, bleeding gums, bad breath, pain, and sensitivity. If left untreated gum disease will lead to the loss of teeth. And with the loss of teeth comes other problems such as issues with eating, talking, and smiling. Gum disease can also affect the whole body, as bacteria from the mouth can travel to other body parts, causing heart problems.
Preventative care is key for gum disease. Seniors should see their dentist for professional teeth cleanings at least twice a year. There, the dentist will advise them on proper brushing and flossing techniques.
Some healthcare providers recommend taking antibiotics before dental care. This is because certain dental treatments can cause the bacteria in the mouth to enter the blood stream. This isn’t an issue for most people with a healthy immune system, however others may need antibiotics to combat the bacteria.
People with heart conditions or artificial joints may be required to take antibiotics before dental treatment. That is to prevent bacteria from causing infection in the body. If you have heart conditions or artificial joints, ask your doctor if you should take antibiotics before dental care.
Darkening of teeth happens naturally as we age. Over time, the tooth’s enamel wears away, exposing the dark dentin behind it. This gives the tooth a grey or yellow color. Additionally, certain medications can cause teeth staining.
Darkened teeth can be prevented by changing your habits. A person’s diet can often cause darkened teeth. Drinks such as coffee, tea, and soda are known culprits. Smoking and chewing tobacco also causes darkened teeth. Avoiding these things would be helpful to avoid tooth discoloration.
Root decay is caused by the roots of the teeth being exposed due to receding gum line. It often accompanies gum disease. This root exposure can lead to decay if not cared for immediately.
Dental Care Tips for Seniors
The following oral health tips are useful for seniors.
- Brush twice a day and floss once a day. An electric toothbrush may help.
- Rinse with antiseptic mouthwash daily.
- Use fluoride. If you are prone to cavities, use a fluoride toothpaste or rinse daily.
- Increase hydration. Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Decrease your sugar intake. Monitor how much sugary snacks you are eating. Brush your teeth after eating.
- Monitor calcium intake. Seniors need 1,000 milligrams calcium daily from low-fat dairy products to prevent osteoporosis.
Paying for Dental Care for Seniors
Even though dentistry is extremely important, it can also be expensive. Some seniors put off dental care all together due to the cost. Seniors who are used to having employee sponsored health and dental insurance are often shocked to find out that dental care is not covered by Medicare.
Though it varies by state, Medicaid may offer limited coverage and Medicare Advantage plans may offer some dental benefits. However, most plans do not cover more expensive treatments such as root canals and crowns.
It is unfortunate that many seniors lose their dental coverage at the time when they need it most. While oral health for seniors is crucial, it is estimated that 1 in 5 seniors over the age of 65 have untreated cavities. Furthermore, 2 out of 3 seniors have gum disease.
To help with the cost of dental treatment, seniors could try the following:
- Ask for a discount. If your dentist puts together a costly treatment plan for you it doesn’t hurt to ask for a discount. Explain your financial situation to them and they may be willing to reduce your bill.
- See a dental hygienist. What dental hygienists can do vary by state, but you can see if seeing a hygienist for certain care is cheaper than seeing the dentist.
- Go to a low cost dental provider. Non profits and the government often provide free or reduced cost dental care in their clinics.
- Search for coupons or deals. When in search of new patients, dentists often offer sales or specials on services. Groupon is a good place to look for this.
Seniors are at higher risk for some dental issues such as dry mouth, gum disease, and root decay. It is important for seniors to practice proper preventative care to ensure the best oral health.