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Senior Dental Care: Special Considerations and Services Offered by Nashville Dentists

Senior Dental Care: Special Considerations and Services Offered by Nashville Dentists

Senior Dental Care: Special Considerations and Services Offered by Nashville Dentists
Dr. Jones
August 28, 2023

Geriatric dentistry is a specialized form of regular dental care that takes a closer look at different oral health challenges that older adults face. The older you get, the more likely it is that you’ll have at least one chronic health condition. In fact, 60% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 40% have two or more. These chronic health conditions can impact an older adult’s oral health.

When you have certain health conditions, you often have to take medications to control them. Prescription medicines often come with side effects like dry mouth that can increase the risk of dental caries and gum disease. Nashville dentists specializing in senior dental care know this and take appropriate steps to prevent tooth loss. What special considerations and services are offered to older adults?

Bridges

With tooth decay and gum disease, there is a risk of tooth loss. If you lose too many teeth, you need replacement teeth to chew food properly. While implants are the best option, they are not affordable for everyone. Insurance coverage may help make implants affordable, but it depends on your coverage.

A bridge is a false tooth or series of false teeth that connect to the teeth or implants on each side of the gap and fill in the gap. While there are implant-supported bridges, there are also traditional bridges that connect to dental crowns (caps) on both sides.

If you’re using a bridge to replace front teeth, a resin-bonded bridge may be used. It’s not a strong bridge, so it’s only used for front teeth. Metal wings are affixed to the back of your teeth and the bridge connects to those, which is known as a resin-bonded bridge. 

Bridges can be a better alternative to partial or full dentures. A geriatric dentist can go over the best options, whether it’s a dental implant or a bridge, or if a root canal and crown is all that’s needed.

Cognitive Impairment

Older adults with cognitive impairment, such as a person with Alzheimer’s disease, may find an appointment with a dentist to be distressing. The noises, smells, new faces, and inability to process detailed sentences all make dental appointments stressful. 

When a dental practice specializes in geriatric dentistry, staff members are experienced in helping communicate with the patient and any family caregivers. They can offer instruction to the caregiver or allow the caregiver to come into the exam room to help calm the patient during the cleaning, X-rays, or dental exam.

Having an electric toothbrush and water flosser can make it easier for a person with a cognitive impairment. A dental practice specializing in geriatric dentistry can help provide a guide to the features to look for and how to properly use them.

Dental Exams and Cleanings

At a bare minimum, a dental exam and cleaning should be performed twice a year. If you have gum disease, it’s recommended that you go for three or four cleanings and exams a year to prevent tooth loss or infection from reaching the bloodstream. Careful attention to oral care is essential.

During a cleaning and exam, X-rays may be taken to look for cavities in their earliest stages. Plaque is removed using special tools. After the plaque is removed, a polisher and fluoride paste are used to thoroughly clean and polish the teeth. Once this is done, the dentist will check the teeth, bite, and gum health during the exam portion. 

If you aren’t cleaning well enough, you’ll be instructed into things you can do to clean your teeth and gums more effectively. You’ll leave once this exam is over. Most dentists give free toothpaste, toothbrushes, and even sample floss products.

Dry Mouth

As you age, your saliva production declines. Medications can also lead to dry mouth. Diseases like diabetes also increase the risk of dry mouth. When you don’t have enough saliva, it’s harder to flush food particles and bacteria from the teeth. Dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

Certain products can help ease dry mouth. A dentist specializing in senior dental care will offer advice on how to deal with dry mouth and keep it from affecting your teeth and gums.

Fillings

If the dental exam finds you have dental caries, you need to have the decayed portion removed. A filling is placed into the tooth to fill in for the missing portion of the tooth. Resin fillings are tooth colored and look just like natural teeth.

Most older adults are familiar with metal (amalgam) fillings. They’re still used in some practices, and insurance may only cover amalgam fillings. Resin fillings are not always covered by dental insurance.

If a cavity is too deep, there’s a chance a root canal is needed to remove deep bacteria and infection. Once the root canal is completed, a crown will be placed on top of the tooth.

Gum Measurements

The dental hygienist or dentist will use a probe to measure the depth of the pockets in your gums. These are the areas where the gums meet your teeth. This is how gum disease is caught in the early stages.

  • 0 – 3 mm without bleeding – Healthy gums
  • 1 – 3 mm with bleeding – Early signs of gum disease
  • 3 – 5 mm without bleeding – Possible gum disease
  • 3 – 5 mm with bleeding – Gum disease
  • 5 – 7 mm with bleeding – Damage to the gum tissue and possible bone loss
  • 7 mm or higher – Advanced gum disease

Oral Cancer Checks

Four out of five oral cancer cases are in people over the age of 55. Around 54,500 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year. 

The average age at the time of diagnosis is 64. As you get older, oral cancer checks should be part of a dental exam. Oral cancer can appear on the tongue, roof, or floor of the mouth, the gums, the tonsils, or the oropharynx. All of these areas need to be carefully checked.

Sealants

While sealants used to be mostly for children, they’re often a good choice for adults, too. A sealant is a protective coating applied over the enamel. Dental sealants can protect against 80% of cavities for the first two years after application and 50% for up to four years. They may or may not be recommended to you and insurance may not cover them, but if you’re interested to see if you are a good candidate, ask your dentist about them.

Sedation Dentistry

Cases of extreme dental fear can make it very hard to sit through a dental cleaning and exam. One study of adults in rural communities found that 39.5% of the elderly population were extremely anxious, 27.4% were very anxious, and 13.6% were slightly anxious. Only 9.5% of those older adults did not experience any fear at the dentist.

What leads to this fear? It can be an experience in the past or embarrassment over what the dental staff will think of their teeth. Fear of infection and bleeding are other reasons.

If you need a Nashville dentist with expertise in geriatric dentistry, Dr. Jody Jones is an excellent choice. His practice wants you to feel good about your teeth. There are no judgments, and the array of dental services ensures you have clean, healthy teeth and gums. Schedule your first appointment with Jody Jones, DDS, and ask about geriatric dentistry and sedation dentistry if fear is an issue.