While some aspects of regular dental visits are much the same for everyone, they can be more involved for an older adult. That’s because people later in life face an increased risk of dental disease and other age-related issues.
If you’re a caregiver for an older adult, you’ll want to be aware of these heightened risks. Here are 4 areas of concern we may check during their next regular dental visit.
Oral cancer. While it can occur at any age, cancer is more prevalent among older adults. Although rarer than other cancers, oral cancer’s survival rate is a dismal 50% after five years. This is because the disease is difficult to detect early or is misidentified as other conditions. To increase the odds of early detection (and better survival chances) we may perform a cancer screening during the visit.
Dental disease. The risks for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease also increase with age. A primary risk factor for older people is a lack of adequate saliva (the mouth’s natural disease fighter) often caused by medications or systemic conditions. We’ll watch carefully for any signs of disease, as well as assess their individual risk factors (including medications) for decreased oral health.
Dentures. If they wear dentures, we’ll check the appliance’s fit. While dentures can wear with use, the fit may also grow loose due to continuing bone loss in the jaw, a downside of denture wearing. We’ll make sure they still fit comfortably and aren’t stressing the gums or supporting teeth. It may be necessary to reline them or consider replacing them with a new set.
Oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing are just as important for older adults as for younger people for preventing dental disease, but often more difficult due to mental or physical impairment. We can note areas of bacterial plaque buildup and recommend ways to improve their hygiene efforts.
Depending on how well your older adult can care for themselves, it may be advisable for you to come with them when they visit us. Our dental team can provide valuable information and advice to help you help them have a healthier mouth.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging & Dental Health.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”