Make Sure You Receive Quality Dental Care from A Geriatric Dentist Who Isn’t Stuck in the 1970’s
The geriatric health care climate has changed drastically over the past two to four decades. Elderly – those over 65 – were once a group with severe disease, hindrances, and overall health decline. However, thanks to the massive improvements in our healthcare system in the last century, those reaching the elderly years now are beginning to experience a greater sense of health and wellbeing that lasts long into their aging years.
This shift in health care for the elderly has directly affected the world of dental care as well. While the playing field has changed, the conceptions about those on the field are still stuck in the 1970’s. As a geriatric dentist today, one sees a variety of incorrect beliefs concerning elderly dental and oral health.
3 Most Common Myths Present in Geriatric Dentists and Doctors
Myth #1 – Most of the aging population is edentulous
Becoming edentulous (without teeth) was once considered a normal part of aging, and many in the healthcare world still carry that belief. However, statistics show that the percentage of edentulous elderly has steadily decreased in the past few decades. As recently as 1971, about 50% of Americans over the age of 65 were edentulous. But a collection of data from 1998-2004 showed that only 23% of Americans age 65-74 were edentulous. In a 1994 study, those in this age group with teeth averaged 19 existing teeth. While those above age 75 still averaged 16 teeth. By 2006, the figure was over 18 remaining teeth for those over age 75.
Dental professionals believing that the elderly will inevitably lose their teeth, don’t care to keep their teeth, and can do nothing about it anyways, will miss out on an opportunity to present preventative and restorative dental services to a group that desperately needs it.
Myth #2 – The elderly experience severe periodontal disease
While the elderly certainly need more strategic care, it is important for a geriatric dentist to understand that not all signs of aging oral health should be treated as though it is severe periodontal disease. Today, geriatric dentistry issues should be treated with more preventative measures in mind.
In a National Health and Nutrition Survey, results showed a cessation or, at the least, leveling off within the elderly surveyed of the two most common signs of severe periodontal disease – bleeding upon probing and increased pocket depth.
However, the survey did return an indication of subgingival calculus, recession, and loss of attachment. These findings affect the method of treatment for the elderly quite significantly. The absence of severe pocket depth and the presence of calculus determines that much of the dental treatment for this age necessitates non-surgical procedures, such as scaling and localized root planing.
The increased interproximal space (area between the tooth and gums) determines that extra oral hygiene measures should be taken for treating bacteria and plaque within these difficult areas.
A highly common condition among elderly patients is root caries. These dictate a necessity for greater preventive measures within daily and periodical dental routines.
Myth #3 – A dry mouth is a normal part of growing old
Salivary flow acts as the body’s natural method for cleansing teeth and remineralizing surfaces after damage has been done. Saliva neutralizes acid within the mouth. However, when salivary flow is low, acid takes a toll on the strength of the tooth’s enamel.
While dry mouth is common in the elderly, it is not a direct result of old age. Most often it results from a medication being taken for a current condition or disease. Thankfully, this can be corrected. A geriatric dentist that does not buy into the myth that a dry mouth is only due to old age, will be vigilant to spot this issue and seek rectification for patients.
Geriatric dental care no longer consists primarily of extensive surgeries and simply creating and maintaining dentures. It holds a much more similar appearance to the common preventative measures that are acceptable all through childhood and the adult years. Geriatric dentists that wish to offer exceptional care for their patients must throw out the common beliefs of elderly dental care that stem from decades ago. Today’s generation of dentate elderly are seeking dentists that will listen to their dental concerns and understand the unique challenges they face while fighting to keep their natural teeth in healthy order.
Dr. Alisa Kauffman with Geriatric House Call Dentistry has been at the forefront of the shifting dental climate within the U.S. She understands the unique needs of her geriatric patients as she has been treating this age group for over 30 years. To receive quality dental care from a professional that identifies the false misconceptions of geriatric dentistry and knows how to properly combat them, call us today at 917-826-6278