The good news is we are living longer, and there are great advancements in healthcare. The “other” news is that many of us find ourselves in charge of caring for our aging parents, many of whom need our help remembering to take care of themselves.
Often we’re making sure our children have back-to-school checkups and twice-yearly dental checks – but we don’t remember to do this for ourselves or our parents. Whether we’re busy, tired, economically challenged, or “will get to that later,” it’s imperative to take a bite out of dental care for the seniors in our lives.
Living longer is wonderful—but you need to keep those pearly whites pearly and healthy, not just so your smile sparkles, but reactively to keep your heart pumping and your blood flowing. While technology and science have helped keep many healthier for longer than in generations past, there are many medical concerns that can be exacerbated by poor dental health.
Due to aging, seniors are particularly susceptible to many dental ailments, such as:
• root decay
• gum disease
• dry mouth due to hypertension or diabetes
Many seniors find it challenging to care for their dental health at home—whether it is due to the loss of a spouse, health issues, physical disability or restricted income. Dr. Shandon Colter—whose North Dallas Family Dental practice, shared with Dr. Jacqueline Brady, sees patients of all ages, with a focus on adult restorative and comprehensive care—recommends “more frequent professional visits or cleanings and products for home use to help with the challenges of keeping their mouths healthy.” He says, “You must take into account physical challenges, side effects from medications and changes in the oral environment as a whole.”
“Older people’s eating habits frequently change too. In many cases, seniors simply snack on whatever they like, and they do this all day long. It’s usually sugary drinks and baked goods, and these invariably contribute to rampant decay,” says Dr. Ross Miller who has practiced in Dallas, Plano and Allen for his almost 30-year career. “If readers are able, I hope they will keep an eye out for their senior friends and family and encourage them to see their dentists regularly, suggest alternatives to muffins or sweet tea, and get them out and about where a great smile is an asset. They’ll be healthier and happier for it.”
In addition, many seniors find themselves subjected to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, levels of dementia and other cognitive issues, all of which make self-care challenging. We must add oral hygiene to the list of needs these seniors have, along with help in feeding, bathing, and managing money.
“The old cliché of ‘retirement means a new gold watch and a set of false teeth’ just doesn’t have to happen anymore. Seniors’ dentists can recommend specialized toothbrushes or handles that arthritic hands can hold easier, electric brushes that make up for loss of dexterity, flossing aids or substitutes, or various types of mouth rinses. Dental implants can now replace missing single or multiple teeth as well as anchor complete sets of dentures,” says Dr. Colter, a graduate of Texas A&M University and Baylor College of Dentistry, who completed his residency in Advanced Education in General Dentistry with the US Navy while on active duty.
“Seniors have worked very hard to get to where they are, and they deserve all of the care and attention that they gave their families while raising them,” says Dr. Colter. “Their needs can be significantly different from those of their adult children, who are often tasked with caring for their elderly parents.”
Part of caring for those we love needs to include observing their oral health and ensuring appointments are made and kept. With the kids back in school, now is the time to help your parents make a dentist appointment. After all it’s a real treat when the tooth fairy visits early in life, but she’s a not-so-welcome guest for the seniors in our lives.