Comorbid conditions can make an older patient’s dental health more complicated to manage. Adults of an advanced age may also take several prescription and/or over-the-counter medications; so, dental professionals must remain extra-vigilant when calculating potentially adverse drug interactions or reactions. There is also the potential for physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments related to age to make things like patient education and oral health self-care a little more difficult.
Oral health is one critical component of staying fit and healthy overall. Patients of an advanced age should be aware of the following issues, which may be more likely to impact them.
Although it may sound benign, the inability to produce an adequate amount of saliva (a condition doctors call xerostomia) can have a serious impact on health. Mineral-rich saliva is responsible for a lot of necessary biological functions, including fighting off the growth of bacteria and viruses that cause bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. Dry mouth brings with it real hardship, like making it unpleasant to eat food or wear dentures.
There are a wide variety of potential causes, including cancer treatments. Most commonly, dry mouth can be a side effect of medication.
Oral thrush is a fungal infection in your mouth. Sometimes, the fungus Candida albicans will overgrow and cause uncomfortable symptoms to manifest. Diseases or drugs that affect the immune system can trigger that overgrowth. This tends to be a minor issue if you are healthy, but certain demographics that are more likely to struggle with a weakened immune system (like babies or the elderly) will find the symptoms of oral thrush a little more difficult to control.
Improperly fitted dentures and lackluster dental hygiene can cause inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture. This leads to rashes and swelling of the affected area, as well as discomfort. Denture-related stomatitis is a relatively common form of oral candidiasis (a yeast infection of the mouth).
If your denture does not fit correctly, it is important to schedule a re-adjustment or replacement as soon as possible
People of all ages should be active in both preventing and treating periodontal disease. It is important to note, however, that untreated periodontal disease can worsen chronic health conditions such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. This makes it particularly problematic for some older patients. Caused by plaque and exacerbated by things like poor dental hygiene, tobacco products, bad diet habits, and more, gum disease should be taken especially serious by patients of an advanced age.
In part, a change in the coloring of your teeth will occur naturally as you get older. Dentin is the bone-like tissue that sits beneath tooth enamel, and it may not remain the same for an entire lifetime. However, decades of consuming stain-causing foods and beverages will also create the appearance of having darker teeth. Similarly, a thinning in the outer enamel layer of your tooth can reveal the darker, more yellow dentin so that it appears more visible.
If you find yourself confronting any of these conditions, do not hesitate to bring it up with your doctor on your next trip to the dentist. It is our duty to do what we can to keep our patients informed, healthy, and happy about their oral care.
About the Author
Dr. Harris has been a practicing dentist and oral surgeon since 2005. In 2012, he received his Master’s of Science in Dentistry and a certificate in Endodontics. He founded East Coast Endodontics shortly after receiving his master’s degree. He also currently holds a part-time position as a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Endodontics department at Virginia Commonwealth University. View his full bio.