June 18, 2020
The Golden Years are much more golden if your teeth are in good shape. One of the most difficult areas dentists have to address are issues concerning aging patients, specifically those who require assisted or nursing care.
Whether you are the one making decisions for someone else, or you are making your own decisions, regular dental maintenance visits are the key to success with your teeth as you age. Dental health needs to stay at the top of the priority list for many reasons; quality of life and the link between oral health and systemic health are two big ones.
It’s not uncommon for an older patient to say, “I don’t need to fix that. How much longer do I really have to live?” And the response is usually the same every time, “If you told me that you knew you weren’t going to be around next year, I’d say I would agree with you…..but you’ve been saying the same thing for 15 years.” You can’t predict the future. What you can do now is decide how healthy you want your mouth to be now to enjoy. It only involves a choice.
When an elderly patient has a multitude of dental issues the following should be considered:
* What is the general health status?
* What is the general prognosis medically?
* Has the patient ever worn anything removable in their mouth?
* What is the minimal amount of dentistry that can be done that will not alter the patient’s quality of life?
* What are other treatment options to maintain or improve the patient’s quality of life?
The general health status of the patient can play a role in deciding how to approach a patient’s dental care. People who are medically compromised but are well controlled are usually okay to receive general dental care. If a person is in good physical and mental shape, it’s difficult to use age as a determining factor for dental care.
The most important factor that needs to be considered is quality of life. Studies have shown that loss of teeth results in a loss in quality of life. While some patients with dentures may say they can eat anything, many others would pay anything to have their teeth back. Masticating food properly for digestion and not having plastic in your mouth to disrupt the flavor of food, are two great reasons to keep your teeth. There is no one who could argue that eating with false teeth is as enjoyable as eating with real teeth.
If you have never worn anything removable in your mouth, it tends to get more difficult to adapt to the older you get. Dentures can be difficult to adjust to. There are definitely better techniques and materials than others that can impact fit and function, but it’s still a piece of plastic in your mouth. Poorly fitting dentures can impact a patient’s nutritional intake and can be a serious issue for an older person.
The best way to avoid having to deal with major issues as you get older is to make sure you take care of your teeth along the journey of life. If someone you love ends up in a nursing facility, one of the most important things you could do for them is to make sure they get proper dental care.
Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at
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