As many of us know, due to advancements in medical technology we are living longer than we ever have. By 2030 the last of the Baby Boomers will turn 65 and older individuals will account for 20% of our population. This is good, but also presents other issues for us to deal with as we age. We’ll be looking specifically at oral health concerns for older individuals as well as providing some tips for how to improve oral health for the entire population.
Dry mouth or Xerostomia affects a large portion of the population, especially as we get older. It is a side effect of numerous different medications and can also be caused by radiation treatment done to the head and neck. Dry mouth becomes a problem because with less saliva our mouths become more acidic. In a very acidic environment decay progresses at rapid rates. There are multiple products on the market to moisten the mouth, Colgate Hydris, Biotene, Xylimelts etc. While these products certainly help ease the symptoms of dry mouth, more treatment is needed to help protect your teeth. We typically recommend increasing you fluoride exposure. Depending on other risk factors we may suggest a prescription fluoride toothpaste or custom fluoride trays that your office can make. Adding additional fluoride helps to strengthen your enamel and make it more protected against decay.
Another unfortunate effect of aging is gum recession. The majority of the population has some degree of gum recession, but this can worsen as we age. Recession exposes the roots of the teeth which are covered in dentin, but not enamel. Dentin is much softer than enamel so decay on root surface progresses much more quickly than decay on the crown edge of the tooth. The combination of root surface exposure and dry mouth can lead to enormous amounts of decay in no time at all. Similar to dry mouth we would also recommend fluoride treatments for root exposure, but we would also discuss your homecare. Removing plaque at the gumline is not only important for preventing decay, but it is also to slow down the advancement of excess recession. Your hygienist can discuss the best homecare aids for you.
Certain diseases such as Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinsons (and others) can all affect our ability to brush and floss as needed. Even general muscle weakness/loss can decrease our effectiveness of oral health. If this is the case a brush with a larger handle or an electric toothbrush may be the best option for you to get the job done efficiently. A flosser with a long handle may also aid you in flossing hard to reach areas. If you’ve noticed you’re having complications, ask your hygienist to provide you with the best options to brush and floss more effectively.
As we age our risk for dementia increases. At a certain point, tooth brushing will be up to the caretaker. It’s important as the caretaker to know how to best care for a patient’s oral health when they can no longer understand or do it themselves. Here is a great guide from Tooth Wisdom about the step-by-step process of caring for another’s teeth. As a caretaker, never hesitate to call your patients dentist, we are always happy to assist you!
We can’t fight aging or dementia but we can prepare ourselves to deal with the challenges that come with it. If you have any questions about any of the problems or recommendations that we discussed, do not hesitate to ask questions at your next visit. If you have noticed any of these problems or limitations, please let us know so we can best assist you with your at home care. If you are a caretaker, we would also like to help you care for our mutual patients oral health in the best way possible and are very willing to answer any questions about techniques or products!
Institute on Aging
American Dental Association