Senior Health | Delmarva Dental Services

Senior Health

 
Oral Health as we Age A 75 year old patient of mine asked me to make recommendations, which would help her to be able to chew adequately when she entered a nursing home. She was in relative good health and wasn’t planning on entering a facility soon. Her concern was that several of her relatives had bad experiences which she hoped to avoid. I had never been asked this question in 30 years but had often seen patients’ oral health deteriorate as they aged, including when they entered long term care facilities. So after researching and much contemplation I have developed some observations and some recommendations. As we age, there are certain inevitabilities. Our manual dexterity decreases which make it harder to keep our teeth, gums and dental appliances clean. Our teeth and dental replacements wear and become less efficient in chewing .We take more medications making our mouth dryer. This leads to greater friction on our oral tissues resulting in ulcers and sore spots. A dryer mouth also makes the cavity causing bacterial acids stronger resulting in higher cavity rates. Receding gums expose more cavity prone root surfaces. The ability to fight oral infection decreases with some of the diseases that plague us such as diabetes. The increased bacteria and fungal levels on our teeth, soft tissues and dentures increase the chances of pneumonia. These bacteria also enter the bloodstream complicating existing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Five percent of Americans are in nursing homes currently. By the time we enter a long term care facility many of the above issues have worsened and we have to rely on others for our oral hygiene. If a patient cannot feed themselves, they probably cannot provide their own oral care. Nursing assistants usually provide this help. Many are not trained and bathing & eating assistance obviously take precedent over oral hygiene.It sounds pretty hopeless but there are many steps we can take to insure our future health and quality of life. The preventive measures we take throughout our life are the strongest influence on our oral health. Regular dental visits, regular flossing, using an electric toothbrush and antibacterial mouth rinses are most important. Get recommended dental care needs completed when we are younger and can tolerate the necessary procedures. Dental implants are a wise investment as single tooth replacements because they cannot get cavities and can be modified to hold in dentures if other teeth are lost. Nursing home patients with implant held dentures can eat more nutritious foods because they can chew harder than patients with conventional dentures. They are less likely to lose their dentures because they’re not removed as much. Selecting the right long term care facility and continuously monitoring the care that we or our loved ones receive is crucial to good health, comfort and quality of life.