Dental care is important at every age and stage of life. A healthy smile will support your overall health and quality of life. An experienced dentist in Los Altos, Dr. Schweifler treats patients of all ages. He works with seniors to address the common dental concerns that can develop as we age.
Americans are living longer; as of 2011, the first Baby Boomers began reaching senior status. In 2014, those over 65 represented 14.5% of the U.S. population, but it’s projected that seniors will represent 21.7% of the U.S. population by 2040. Dental decay and periodontal disease are among the most destructive of chronic degenerative diseases. As lifespans increase, seniors will be putting higher demands on their dentitions.
Older adults will account for a larger proportion of a typical general dental practice. They must seek care from providers who understand their unique risks and can offer preventive strategies to reduce them while effectively diagnosing and treating their conditions. Dr. Schweifler is proud to offer general dental services to the seniors of Los Altos, CA, and the surrounding area.
Risks Common to Older Adults
Seniors and older adults are more susceptible to certain conditions than other age groups.
As Americans are living longer, they are taking more and more prescription drugs that commonly have dry mouth or xerostomia as a side effect. Normal salivary flow can counteract the acids created by bacterial plaque. This reduces the risks that these acids lead to dental decay. With reduced salivary flow, the oral environment becomes progressively more acidic, putting seniors at a higher risk for aggressive decay, especially on the roots of teeth.
Seniors are at a greater risk of periodontal progression (i.e., bone loss and gum recession) that exposes more tooth roots unprotected by the hard enamel found on the crowns of teeth. Patients who have lived most of their lives with no dental problems can become a very “high risk” for tooth decay almost overnight due to the combination of the following:
- medication-induced dry mouth
- more exposed tooth roots
- more nooks and crannies for plaque and food to collect
- reduced dexterity that often occurs with this population due to such challenges as arthritis or dementia
Preventing Root Decay
Preventing the destruction associated with root decay takes a multifaceted approach. It starts with understanding the role you have in maintaining a plaque-free environment. You achieve this when you partner with our dental hygienists. Because plaque and food debris tend to hide out, and it’s difficult for you to see where it’s collecting, our hygienists can show you where it is and, in the process, help you raise your level of home care.
By showing effective brushing and flossing techniques and incorporating other plaque-removing gadgets into the mix, your hygienist can help you manage much of this risk independently. Having more frequent visits with the hygienist is also effective at reducing the risk of root decay progression. Patients at risk for root decay also benefit from prescription fluorides that can strengthen tooth structure and resist the acidic environment consistent with a dry mouth.
Of course, a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can also increase one’s risk for decay. We also encourage patients at high risk for such decay to have more frequent exams. The easiest decay to treat is that which is discovered in its infancy. Once root decay spreads below the gum line and under crown margins, the treatments become much less predictable and often lead to tooth loss.
While periodontal disease isn’t unique to seniors, more years amount to higher risks like any chronic disease. Periodontal disease occurs when the body creates an inflammatory reaction to the presence of bacterial plaque. Suppose the initial inflammatory reaction of gum inflammation (GINGIVITIS) isn’t reversed. In that case, it can lead to the degradation of the bone surrounding the teeth and ultimately put these teeth at risk for loss.
Some individuals are at a higher risk for periodontal disease than others. They elicit a stronger inflammatory reaction to even light levels of bacterial plaque. This bone destruction doesn’t typically cause symptoms until its later stages. Thus, it’s often true that patients have no real awareness of their disease severity until the point at which treatments are more invasive and less successful. Like any other chronic disease, the highest success rates with treatment occur at the earliest diagnosable stages.
With more lost teeth, the chewing system endures more and more stress. The balance of biting forces is displaced across fewer teeth, accelerating the demise of those teeth.
Preventing Periodontal Disease
Many preventive protocols associated with root decay are consistent with periodontal disease. The goals for reducing periodontal risk center on plaque control. With an effective hygienist coaching you to a higher level of home care, you will have less plaque, inflammation, and risk for continued bone loss.
If the gum pockets are deepening and becoming less manageable, you may be a candidate for a scaling and root planing procedure. During this procedure, the hygienist non-surgically removes the plaque deposits below the gum line, causing the irritation. Then, they plane the tooth roots back to a smooth condition and ultimately shrink those inflammatory pockets to a healthier, more manageable state.
With bone loss comes a higher risk of tooth mobility. As patients with mobile teeth chew, the forces of mastication on the compromised system just lead to more tooth flexure and, ultimately, more bone loss.
Such patients are candidates for splint therapy (i.e., nightguards) that can displace the bite forces across an appliance while sleeping and, at least, reduce the rate at which bone is lost. In more advanced stages of periodontal disease, where several teeth have been lost to the disease process, dentures may be the inevitable next step.
Senior Dentistry FAQs
The dental needs of seniors need unique care. Read the following frequently asked questions to learn more.
Why is it so important for seniors to take good care of their oral health?
There are many reasons why proper oral hygiene is important later in life. However, the main reason is they are at higher risk for dental and overall health problems. An average elderly person takes a lot of medication and also may suffer from physical limitations.
Certain medications can lead to oral health problems. Flossing and brushing may be more difficult for them. With physical limitations, it is important to monitor their oral health closely.
Is it necessary for seniors to visit the dentist more often?
You should continue to visit Dr. Schweifler regularly. He will let you know if you require more frequent teeth cleanings. This may benefit some elderly patients who suffer from physical limitations.
What is dry mouth?
Dry mouth is a common condition seen in elderly patients. As some people age, they may begin to experience reduced saliva flow. Living with a dry mouth can cause many health problems. It makes you more prone to gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth infections.
Most people also have difficulty with their dentures, and speaking and swallowing also become issues. If you suffer from dry mouth, let Dr. Schweifler know at your next appointment; he can help you treat this problem.
How can seniors strengthen their teeth?
Your teeth enamel is safeguarded and strengthened by fluoride. We advise seniors at risk of tooth decay to switch to fluoride toothpaste or add a fluoride rinse to their regular oral care regimen to strengthen their tooth enamel.
Why do seniors’ teeth fall out?
Seniors’ most common cause of tooth loss is periodontal disease, which slowly deteriorates the mouth’s supporting tissues, resulting in tooth loss. Treating periodontal disease is crucial to preventing this and preserving the health of your mouth.
Am I too old for dental implants?
Age is not necessarily a limitation to receiving dental implants. We will determine if you are a good candidate based on how much jawbone you have, your oral health, and your dental needs. Our office can also prepare you for implant treatment to ensure you are the best candidate.