Senior dental care is more than ever relevant. The world’s population is ageing. By 2050, 25% of the world’s population will be aged over 60 years. A fifth of these – 400 million – will be aged over 80 years. Studies show that older people are particularly affected by poor oral health. Which challenges do they face and what can we do about them?
The Challenges in Senior Dental Care
We’ve all got to make sure we follow a good dental hygiene regime if we want to smile with confidence. Good dental hygiene becomes even more important as we grow older because seniors face unique challenges.
As you get older, your gums may recede (shrink back). This exposure means your teeth become more sensitive as a result. The solution? Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and toothpaste or mouthwash that deals with the sensitivity.
You may find it more difficult to clean your teeth properly if you have problems with your hands or arms or if you have arthritis. The solution? Use an electric toothbrush. The handles are thicker and easier to hold and the oscillating head does most of the work.
If your eyesight is poor, you may find it helpful to use a magnifying mirror and a good light. If you’re not sure if you manage to remove all of the plaque, you can invest in “disclosing tablets” or harmless dye that can be painted onto your teeth with a cotton bud. Simply brush your teeth again to remove the stained plaque.
If you have lost some teeth in the past, and have bridges or dentures, you may have particular cleaning needs and problems. Your dental team can help you with these.
Saliva helps to protect your teeth against decay, so you want to make sure that your mouth stays nice and moist. Unfortunately, 30% of patients older than 65 years and up to 40% of patients older than 80 years suffer from a dry mouth, aka xerostomia. This often happens to people who are taking more than 4 daily prescription medications. It can also happen to people with diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease. Dry mouth can lead to cavities, cracked lips, and a cracked tongue. The solution? You can buy special products, including artificial saliva, in most pharmacies without a prescription. Alternatively, keep your mouth moist by sipping water regularly throughout the day and limiting alcoholic beverages, tea, coffee an sweetened drinks.
These can be caused by broken teeth, poorly fitting dentures or sharp pieces of food. Once you’ve dealt with the cause, ulcers should heal within 3 weeks.
Did you know that approximately 50% of people over the age of 75 years, have root caries affecting at least one tooth. The solution? Brush correctly and use topical fluoride through daily mouth rinses, high fluoride toothpaste and regular fluoride varnish application. In addition, make sure your dietary intake meets recommendations.
Cognitive impairment and senior dental care
Seniors with severe cognitive impairment, including dementia, are at increased risk for cavities and gum disease because its harder for them to take care of their teeth. In these cases, caregivers have to take a more active role in the dental care of their loved ones.
Neglecting senior dental care can lead to a drastic decrease in quality of life. Cavities, gum disease, tooth loss or dry mouth affect our ability to chew and therefore our nutritional intake. These challenges also affect the way we interact socially. Make sure that everyone can smile with confidence.