Elderly At Highest Risk for Dental Problems

Two seniors holding hands on a park bench
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A few decades ago, losing your teeth and getting dentures was the norm. Today, with better hygiene and fluoridated toothpaste and water, older people have more teeth to preserve than ever before. Unfortunately, most Americans that retire or leave the workforce find themselves losing their employer dental insurance. 

Medicare covers dental care except for specific conditions. Medicaid varies by state and usually only pays for limited procedures. More elderly patients are going longer without seeing a dentist, leaving many vulnerable for periodontal disease.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 20 percent of Americans over 65 have untreated cavities. Among Americans over 75, 25 percent have lost all their teeth. 

Dental care gets more complicated as one gets older. Older people produce less saliva, leaving teeth vulnerable to decay. Receding gums also expose teeth to more decay and bone loss makes teeth less stable. Over 500 medications taken by the elderly, such as those for asthma, allergies, blood pressure, cholesterol, Parkinson’s or Alzheimers, produce the side effect of dry mouth. Dry mouth leads to an increase of cavities, mouth sores, and infections.

The best way to protect your oral health as you age is to plan for your dental expenses before you retire. Organizations like AARP offer supplemental dental insurance plans for their members. Discount dental plans are another option and they usually have lower monthly fees than traditional dental insurance. The best way to prevent dental disease is with preventative care. Having your teeth checked and cleaned twice a year has shown to lower costs in the long run, according to researchers at University of Maryland Dental School.

If caring for a disabled or elderly loved one, it is important to help them keep their mouth clean and remind them to brush and floss daily, as well as making sure they get to a dentist regularly. Nursing home residents that need dental care and are enrolled in Medicaid have access to a regulation called Incurred Medical Expense, that can help pay for medically necessary care as determined by a dentist.

Lifestyle and diet changes are also important for the elderly when it comes to their oral health. For those suffering from dry mouth due to medication, drinking plenty of water and chewing sugarless gum can increase flow of saliva. Using an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash won’t dry out the mouth and can also help. It is also important to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, which dry out the mouth.

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