I have noticed that a big part of my practice lately is addressing the dental problems of seniors. I am inching toward that category and, as part of the Baby Boomer Crowd, I have reflected on the challenges of caring for people in this category. I love geriatric dentistry and treating these wonderful people as I would my own family. But, it isn’t without its challenges.
Elderly seniors have a host of issues to deal with, including the fact that they can’t brush their teeth like they used to, or floss due to arthritis or dementia, or whatever their health care concern is. That lack of good oral hygiene combined with many who take a host of medications that cause dry mouth creates an epidemic of caries, and particularly root caries.
When the cavity starts destroying the root of the tooth next to the bone, it becomes a heroic endeavor to try to save or restore the tooth. It also becomes quite expensive when you have to replace crowns or have to resort to root canals or implants. Gum disease, lack of care, bone loss, and the inability to clean down the infected areas also make seniors more prone to tooth loss. Seniors are usually on a fixed budget which makes it hard to pay for the needed care. In addition, many seniors have diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and are prone to pulmonary infections such as pneumonia, and heart issues. The infection in the gums can complicate and worsen their entire health condition.
Keeping the mouth free of infection and healthy is one of the keys to preserving the oral health of this category of patients. In addition, the best way to prevent root caries is with fluoride and the best time to apply the new varnishes we have is right after the dental cleaning. It typically isn’t covered by insurance, but it can be so effective. The prescription toothpaste we provide our patients, such as ClinPro 5000 and Prevident, allow the person to apply the fluoride at home on a daily basis, helping to prevent root cavities. We also love the Carifree products, such as the treatment rinse and maintenance rinse, to bring the pH of the mouth back up out of the acid zone and kill some of these unhealthy bacteria.
Additionally, if the patient would avoid sucking on lozenges and drinking acidic beverages and such they can prevent a lot of these problems on their own. Many of our elderly patients (including my own mother) benefit by coming in every three months for a cleaning to help debride the mouth of the unhealthy biofilm that causes dental problems.
In short, we have found that preventative in-office care can help seniors avoid losing their teeth and impact their ability to chew effectively. Also, many seniors go downhill after losing teeth. Preventative care can also be a lot cheaper in the long run, thus saving them a lot of money.
If you are a senior or know someone in your family who could benefit from a preventative care approach to dentistry, please give us a call at 360-256-1202. We can do a lot to help keep your mouth healthy and avoid the epidemic of root caries and periodontal disease that we are seeing. At Two Rivers Dentistry, our dedicated dentist, Dr. Vaughn Teuscher and his team are happy to serve our senior patients in Vancouver, Washington.