Does dental care change as you get older? Yes, yes it does. Geriatric dental care deals with the specialized dental needs of patients over the age of 55. Not only the prevalent diseases found in this age group but also special accommodations seniors need. And no matter how old you are, taking care of your teeth and gums is important.
What is Geriatric Dental Care
Dental care continues to be important as you get older. Tooth decay is still a problem with seniors as well as complications that are prevalent with diseases of the elderly. Continue to schedule regular dental checkups twice a year, and consider switching to a geriatric dentist with accommodations to meet an elderly person's needs.
Symptoms of Disease
Many diseases of the body have symptoms that appear in the oral cavity. Geriatric dentists, through regular dental exams, can find evidence in the teeth and gums of seniors of the following conditions and diseases:
- Heart disease
- Liver Disease
- Eating disorders
Dental Conditions Prevalent in Seniors
Why should you ask, "What is geriatric dental care?" Because when you are a senior, several dental conditions may be more prevalent if you neglect regular dental checkups.
Gum disease can occur at any age, but is more prevalent in the elderly. Diabetes may reduce the senior's ability to fight the bacteria that gets trapped around the teeth. The gums may become inflamed and teeth become loose.
Many older people wear dentures. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one quarter of all adults age 60 and older do not have their natural teeth. A geriatric dentist has specialized training to properly fit dentures. Dentures that do not fit correctly can cause pain and lead to loss of appetite in the elderly. Loss of appetite will lead to poor nutrition and illness. Dentures need to be refitted regularly because the jaw reshapes itself continually when the teeth are not there to hold it in place.
Oral cancer is most common among seniors. A dentist can find cancer during an exam. Early detection is important in cancer survival rates.
A number of seniors take prescription medications. Many of these drugs cause dry mouth. Dry mouth leads to less saliva in the mouth. Saliva keeps the bacteria from building up and causing tooth decay. A geriatric dentist can instruct seniors on how to reduce dry mouth.
Accommodating Special Needs
Elderly patients may have special needs that need to be accommodated either in the dental office, home or care facility.
Wheelchair access is a must for a geriatric dental office. The doors and hallways should be wide enough to maneuver a wheelchair through. There should be an elevator if the office is upstairs, and ramps outside for wheelchairs. Inside the office, the dentist should have experience doing dental care with the patient in his wheelchair if he can't be moved. The dentist should have a chair that is accessible to an elderly person.
Some geriatric patients can't get out of bed. In this case they would be moved on a stretcher and taken to the dental office. The office needs to be completely accessible for a stretcher. The dentist should be trained and able to perform geriatric dentistry with the patient on their stretcher.
If an elderly person is confined to a hospital bed or bed-bound in a nursing home, dental professionals may need to go to them. A dentist who provides geriatric care would be able to go into the hospital or care facility and provide dentistry in the field.
Finding a Geriatric Dentist
Locate a geriatric dentist in your area by looking up dentists who specialize in senior dental care in the phone book. Call your local senior center and ask them for recommendations for geriatric dentists in your neighborhood.