Dental health and the elderly

There is clear evidence that gum disease is a risk factor in systemic diseases such as osteoporosis, cancer and respiratory disease, so the importance of good oral health in the elderly goes beyond the cosmetic. Now, a new review has brought together first-hand accounts of older patients, revealing what concerns might be stopping them from attending regular dental appointments.

Common barriers cited were dental anxiety, poor general health that made visits difficult, the cost of treatment and physical limitations on travel.

 Barriers to dental visits

dental care and the elderly

  • Forgetfulness was mentioned often
  • Cost was a common concern
  • Not caring about dental health in the same way as they did when they were younger
  • Access was mentioned as a problem, as older patients often require help getting to the surgery
  • Illness was frequently mentioned – one patient said: “I’ve been so ill that I haven’t got around to it”
  • Others that were interviewed admitted that dental anxiety only worsens as you get older

Drilling down into possible barriers to seeking regular dental care is even more important in the light of a new UK study that has found that poor oral health increases the risk of frailty in older men. Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers observed over 1,000 men over a three-year period and found a link between poor oral health and problems such as weight loss, exhaustion, reduction in walking speed and a reduction in physical activity.

One in five men had no teeth, over half had gum disease, nearly a third had dry mouth and one in ten had trouble eating.

Common dental problems in the older patient

Root decay: as we age gum tissue recedes and the roots do not have the same enamel protection as the tooth, making them susceptible to decay.

Risks of other diseases: oral infections can make blood sugar levels spike which can potentially lead to the development of diabetes.

Dry mouth: many of the medications that older patients require to treat degenerative diseases can cause dry mouth. The mouth requires saliva to protect the teeth from decay and, if left untreated, dry mouth can lead to the development of tooth cavities and gum disease.

With the link between poor oral health and overall health, it is essential that urgent and preventative intervention is required.