Ageing appears to give a warped perception of one getting ill-fitted dentures and having loose teeth falling out. However, the golden years should be a time when you have the most to smile about.
More than 60% of Australians over 75 suffer from gum disease and more than one in three have complete tooth loss. What’s also concerning is that the number of Australians over the age of 85 is projected to double by the year 2042 to more than a million, which means that the problem will only worsen. Moreover, the NSW branch of the Australian Dental Association (ADA) has raised concerns about an increased risk of unnecessary pain and life-threatening conditions experienced by the elderly as a result of poor oral health.
What Causes Oral Problems in the Elderly
As we get older, our health risks increase and dental health is no exception. Here are several oral conditions that may affect elderly Australians:
- Root decay – as our gums recede, this exposes the tooth root and makes it vulnerable to bacteria and acids.
- Sensitive teeth – receding gums expose areas of teeth that aren’t protected by enamel, making those parts sensitive.
- Gum diseases – are caused by a build-up of dental plaque and is one of the major causes of tooth loss in adults.
- Attrition – the ‘wearing and tearing’ of your teeth due to years of grinding and chewing. Over time, the enamel starts to wear down and increases the risk of cavities.
- Hyposalivation – a noticeable and measurable decrease of saliva in a person’s mouth. It may cause tingling, halitosis, a decreased sense of taste, difficulty in wearing dentures, and an increase in the presence of mouth and dental plaque.
One of the root causes appears to be that many older Australians suffer from dental fear. They avoid seeing dentists early on and only seek symptom-driven treatments – by which time it can be too late. These delays in timely treatment for both tooth decay and advanced gum disease result in not just the loss of teeth, but the overall decline in quality of life, which in turn prevents the elderly from enjoying healthy food and socialising with confidence.
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Beating Dental Anxiety
For those who suffer from dental anxiety, dental clinics should merge quality care and comfort by immersing patients in relaxing ambiences. Services such as happy gas and intravenous sedation should be offered for the more nervous clientele. For patients who are missing or are about to lose all their teeth, procedures such as the All-Teeth-on-Four can be performed on the elderly as it involves less surgery and recovery time, whilst only costing half the amount of more traditional methods.
Yet these treatments and checkups can still add up; and many may not be able to afford it Fortunately, several programs are running in NSW providing oral health services to older Australians, both public to private. Forecasts have shown that these programs, such as the Senior Smiles Program currently running in Newcastle and the Central Coast, can provide cost-effective and social benefits if implemented further.
Regular Checkups and Routine Care Are Important
Meanwhile, it is recommended that seniors do regular checkups as it’s important to identify potential problems before they get worse. Seniors should also brush and floss every day. Flossing is particularly essential as it helps to remove bacteria, plaque, and food from in between teeth – reducing the likelihood of tooth decay and gum disease.
Using antibacterial mouthwashes and brushing with fluoride toothpaste can significantly reduce the risk of dental plaque buildup and cavities. What can also surprisingly improve your dental hygiene is to cut out smoking and limit the intake of sugar so a decrease in sugary products makes a difference. Furthermore, it is a proven fact that smoking leads to increased cases of mouth and throat cancer whilst cutting down on sugar also means having less risk of cavities and tooth decay.
Those who may be suffering from hyposalivation should consume more water and try taking sugar-free gum as this will help increase saliva production.
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Access to good quality oral healthcare should not have to be a privilege but a basic human right. Family members, carers, and dental practitioners need to be made aware of the circumstances and issues related to dental care in seniors. This is to ensure that seniors are supported and are given the necessary care they need so that they can smile radiantly and confidently in the golden twilight of their years.
If you stay around Geelong, there are many dentists available – just make sure you visit a reputable and reliable denture clinic in Geelong if you have specific problems regarding dentures. You should also seek out same day dentists in Geelong if you have an emergency on hand.