Senior citizens, the fastest growing portion of the U.S. population, are keeping their teeth longer than prior generations and have special dental needs, according to dentists at the 45th annual meeting of Academy of General Dentistry.
As the population ages, the dental needs of the individual over 65 become increasingly specialized; each individual has different medical problems and take different prescriptions which can adversely interact with dental anesthesia. Dental patients, especially the elderly, need to keep their dentist informed of any changes or updates in their medical history to help prevent potentially harmful drug interactions or health conditions.
"Many medications cause a decrease in the saliva flow which suppresses the normal buffering action of the saliva," said Fred Margolis, DDS, one of 50 featured clinicians at the Academy of General Dentistry's annual meeting, president of the Illinois Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped (IFDH), and staff dentist at a residential facility for the developmentally disabled. "The resulting dry mouth condition can lead to dental decay and dry mouth, which can lead to tooth loss."
"Special mouthrinses can be prescribed to increase the saliva flow and reduce plaque build-up," said Dr. Margolis.
Adult tooth loss is often a result of oral disease and not the aging process.
Regular dental visits are essential for senior citizens, even for the 44 percent of elderly adults who no longer have their teeth. Dentists can adjust uncomfortable dentures and screen for oral cancer: each year, more than 8,000 people die of oral and throat cancer according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
In order to avoid oral diseases and maintain their natural teeth, seniors who do not have a regular dentist should select a dentist and schedule a consultation visit, advised Dr. Margolis. "Talk to the dentist, make sure you feel comfortable. Explain your condition, concerns and bring your medication list." Homebound seniors can contact local dental societies regarding mobile dentistry programs.
Seniors planning to enter a nursing home should inquire about the dental consultant and their personal care giver. Currently, 1.5 million seniors receive care in 16,700 nursing homes and 50 to 77 percent of those nursing home residents experience total tooth loss.
Family members should play an active role in encouraging the oral health of homebound seniors or those in nursing homes by helping them schedule regular dental visits.