Elderly patients commonly suffer from medical conditions as well as long-standing dental disease. Not all senior citizens are ignorant of their dental health. But, many choose to delay their dental treatments due to rising costs and the inconvenience of multiple visits. Here are some common issues of senior citizens and dental care for elderly patients:
- Tooth loss
- Gum disease
- Discolored or dark teeth
- Root exposure and decay
- Dry mouth
Dental care for elderly patients
Over a long period of time, a variety of factors can cause gum problems in older adults. The buildup of deposits on teeth, use of tobacco, ill-fitting dentures or bridges as well as many medical conditions can be responsible for gum disease. As gum disease progresses, the patient may experience the gums sliding down to reveal the roots of teeth, gaps between the teeth. The jaw bone deteriorates slowly. As a result, the teeth start to move and eventually, the teeth fall out.
Many people also experience flattening of the teeth (attrition) leading to teeth sensitivity, yellowing of the teeth, which is also an age-related change seen in elderly patients. All these age-related changes, though may be inevitable, but still can be taken care of.
What happens when you have missing teeth?
Studies show how early loss of teeth can increase the risk of getting dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. With missing teeth, you are unable to chew your food properly the way you used to. This affects your food intake which may cause nutritional and other health problems. This eventually deprives the brain cells of the nutrition causing them to die.
Additionally, with missing teeth you experience problems in speech and difficulty in pronouncing certain words. Patients with extensive tooth loss notice changes in their face structure due to the lack of teeth in the mouth. People with missing teeth tend to look much older than their age. The remaining teeth tend to fall in the spaces, changing the entire look of your face and also hampers the way you smile.
Not all gum disease is a result of old age. Hence, dentists recommend brushing the teeth twice a day and may recommend a special ‘interdental’ toothbrush to elderly patients with gaps between the teeth. Moving teeth are then treated by splinting them together (stabilizing) and saved from extraction.
Problems while wearing dentures
Wearing dentures can be tedious. A small piece of food stuck in between our teeth can make us so restless, imagine an entire denture in the mouth can make it so uncomfortable. But practice is the key. Loose and ill fitting dentures, too tight dentures, irritations, pricking sensations, redness, tenderness, soreness are some of the common problems experienced by new denture wearers.
Most commonly denture wearers also experience dry mouth. Saliva serves as a natural lubricant and cleanser in the mouth. As we age, the production of saliva in our mouth starts declining. As a result of this, dentures can become loose and ill-fitting over time. Dry mouth can also cause decayed teeth, irritation, mouth sores and infections in denture wearers.
Tips for denture wearers
- The Dentist explains to patients how to wear and remove dentures.
- 1st week– Initially a new denture wearer should just learn how to speak with the denture as speech may be compromised and the patient should get used to the denture. You should be able to talk and have a conversation. You can also practice reading the newspaper loudly every day.
- 2nd week – Once you are used to talking and comfortable with the denture you can start consuming liquid food or soft food that can be easily swallowed with less chewing.
- 3rd week– By the third week you can now start having normal food, but is still advised not to bite too hard. This is also the week where you can now practice chewing slowly from both sides.
- 4th week– By this week you slowly start adjusting and adapting to your dentures.
- Mantaining your dentures– Make sure you clean your dentures every day with a denture cleanser and a toothbrush.
- Remove your dentures at bedtime and keep them in water overnight
- Frequent ulcerations are commonly experienced by new denture wearers. In such times, stop wearing them for 2-3 days and apply soothing gels for ulcers as prescribed by your dentist till the ulcers finally subside. Get your dentures smoothened by your dentist and continue wearing them.
- Gum irritations due to dentures are common and one can apply a mixture of turmeric, honey and ghee. Keep a soothing gel handy as prescribed by your dentist. Massage the area 2-3 times a day for a week.
- If the gum irritations and ulcers due to dentures do not subside, you need to check with your dentist for any sharp edges on the dentures which might be the cause.
- It will take one or two months to get habituated to wearing dentures. However, it may vary from person to person. But giving up is not a solution.
If you wear dentures, you should still brush your gums, tongue, and roof of the mouth before you put in your dentures and after removing them. If you have dry mouth, drink at least 2 liters of water in a day. Generally, you should maintain a good oral hygiene routine and use a mouthwash to prevent bacterial infection. Make sure to have a balanced diet and follow up with regular checkups at the dental office.
Age doesn’t matter, a senior citizen of 60 plus years can also have good and strong teeth. Taking care of teeth at an early age is good for oral health at an older age.
- People aged 60 and above need to take care of their oral hygiene more than ever.
- Certain oral diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis may trigger underlying medical conditions.
- Dental diseases do not progress with age, right treatment at the right time can save it all.
- Wearing your dentures is not difficult, all it needs is practice.
- Seek denture counselling if you avoid wearing your dentures.