Aging and Your Dental Health
The demographic of older adults is growing. The typical aging patient’s health can be complicated by comorbid conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.). Additionally, older adults may regularly use prescription medications that could make them more vulnerable to medication errors, drug interactions and adverse drug reactions.
Physical, sensory and cognitive impairments associated with aging may make home oral health care and patient education/communications challenging. Dental conditions associated with aging include dry mouth (xerostomia), root and coronal caries, and periodontitis.
Furthermore, 19% of seniors no longer have any natural teeth, and a Massachusetts survey revealed that 34% of seniors are in some dental discomfort. More than half (53%) of seniors have moderate to severe periodontal disease.
Seniors who have lost all or most of their teeth often end up avoiding basic elements of a healthy diet, (fresh fruits and vegetables). Relying on soft foods results in a decline in nutrition and health. Often these seniors have pain and difficulty speaking, and embarrassment and loss of self-esteem, which contributes to loneliness and social isolation
Of people aged 65 and older, 39% reported using five or more prescription drugs. Problems are compounded by use of multiple healthcare providers and pharmacies. A regular review by the dentist of the aging patients’ medical history and current medications should be done.
Xerostomia (Dry Mouth)
Dry mouth affects 30% of patients older than 65 years and up to 40% of patients older than 80 years. It can be caused by over 400 commonly used medications, can lead to mucositis, caries, cracked lips and fissured tongue. It is recommended to drink or at least sip water throughout the day, limiting alcoholic beverages and beverages high in sugar or caffeine (juices, sodas, coffee, etc.)
Dental Insurance Coverage
Believe it or not, 50% of seniors do not see a dentist; in fact one in five Medicare beneficiaries have not visited a dentist in five years. Cost is the major reason, and approximately 70% of seniors do not have dental insurance. Traditional Medicare does not cover routine dental care; Medicare Part A covers very limited “medically necessary” benefits; and Medicare Advantage plans that have coverage provide minimal benefits.
Tips To Maintaining and Improving Your Oral Health
- Brush twice a day with soft bristle toothbrush. An electric toothbrush may be beneficial for those with limited mobility
- Floss between your teeth at least once a day
- If you wear a denture or partial, remember to clean them on a daily basis
- Drink tap water; it contains fluoride to help prevent tooth decay
- Visit a dentist regularly