As the nation’s population continues to grow grayer, dentists around the country are focusing even more attention on the oral health challenges seniors often face. The need for this increased attention is only enhanced by many seniors’ reliance on medications to treat many age-related conditions and other medical ailments like hypertension and diabetes. For many seniors, those medications increase the risk of cavities, periodontitis, and xerostomia – or dry mouth. Xerostomia can have a major impact on the oral health of elderly dental patients, and should be carefully addressed to protect the teeth and gums.
The Good and the Bad for Senior Dental Health
According to government estimates, the next fourteen years will see the percentage of Americans age 65 or older rise to roughly twenty percent of the country’s population. Increased attention to dental health for seniors has resulted in more of those elderly patients retaining their natural teeth than at any time in recorded history. Still, many of those seniors have untreated dental decay, with as many as two-thirds suffering from untreated periodontitis.
Some of that can be explained by changes in the body that naturally occur as people age. In addition to bone and muscle tissue loss, many seniors suffer from reduced cognitive function that corresponds to increased difficulty managing oral hygiene and medications. And since roughly ninety percent of American seniors regularly use at least one medication each month – with the average senior relying on between 4 and 5 different medications, side effects like xerostomia can represent a real threat to dental health when oral hygiene is neglected.
Xerostomia – Understanding Dry Mouth
Xerostomia can afflict patients at any age, but can be particularly dangerous for those who rely on multiple medications for health needs. The senior population is disproportionately impacted by dry mouth, with roughly a third of all patients 65 years or older suffering from the condition as a side effect of medication.
Dry mouth’s real impact is due to the reduction in saliva in the patient’s mouth. Without that saliva to naturally cleanse teeth and remove harmful bacteria, protection for the teeth and gums is almost completely dependent on the patient’s personal oral hygiene routine and regular care from a dental professional. Once xerostomia begins, patients can suffer from effects ranging from cavities to cracked lips, mucositis, and tongue fissures.
Unfortunately, seniors are often already at risk for increased decay and cavities due to gingival recession and its impact on root surface exposure. Seniors who rely on four or more medications on a regular basis can dramatically increase that risk – especially when their regular dental hygiene regimen is not being properly followed.
Seniors at risk should focus on increased water consumption, and reduced consumption of alcohol and sugary beverages. Along with renewed attention to regular oral hygiene practices and care from a dental professional at Ebenezer Dental. Seniors are fortunate to live in a time when so many of us can retain our teeth throughout our entire lives. An appointment with the best dentist in Midtown Manhattan is a great first step toward helping you keep your teeth strong and healthy for life. Contact us today to learn more about your dental care, and schedule your next appointment.