Dental care for the elderly

    submitted by Dr. Michael Spadafora, D.D.S., Bucks County Dental Design,

    Caring for elderly patients in the dental office can be challenging, but also extremely gratifying.

    It is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to see a patient age while maintaining healthy teeth and gums. This is rarely achieved without truly focusing on oral health.

    One major problem that senior citizens can encounter is the condition of Xerostomia, or dry mouth.

    While the name sounds frightening, the actual effects on the mouth can range from a nuisance to serious.

    Dry mouth is a condition where the salivary glands do not produce the normal amounts of saliva. Saliva is essential to good oral health.

    It acts as a neutralizer for the natural acidity of the mouth. In addition to making chewing and swallowing easy, saliva is a natural mouth cleanser.

    When the salivary glands stop working, the patient can experience a significant increase in dental caries (decay) around existing restorations and natural teeth.

    Coupled with decreased dexterity (for brushing and flossing) and increased medical issues, you have a recipe for “dental disaster.”

    Common causes of dry mouth include medications, smoking, side effects from certain illnesses, and injury to the salivary glands from cancer treatment.

    Regardless of the cause, dry mouth needs to be addressed.

    The first step is a visit to your dentist.

    He may consult with your physician about your medications and any possible changes that could be made to help alleviate the condition.

    In addition to thoroughly checking your teeth for evidence of decay, the dentist might recommend a fluoride rinse or gel. Of course, regular teeth cleanings are imperative.

    Other lifestyle changes may provide some relief from the condition.

    Chewing sugar free gum, avoiding mouthwashes that contain alcohol, and avoiding caffeine are easy things to try. 

    Also, sipping water may decrease your symptoms. Over the counter products are available, with varying degrees of success.

    If all else fails, talk to your dentist about a prescription medication to deal with Xerostomia.

    While a senior may be reluctant to add another medication to his health routine, it might be necessary to counteract the side effects of this troublesome condition.

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