Dental Care for Older Australians by Oral Health Therapist G. Shelton

Dental Care for Older Australians

Our second Dentistry in Focus article (from October 2013) focuses on some basic dental issues frequently faced by older Australians and is written by our Dental Oral Health Therapist and Hygienist Glenys Shelton.

Older Australians, 6 common dental problems and solutions

Advances in dental care mean that older Australians are more likely to keep their own natural teeth for longer. Dental care is very important, as oral disease tends to be more accumulative and more complex as we age. This is due to an increase in the number of teeth with large restorations, crowns, bridges, impants or even partial dentures.

Common problems for older Australians to be aware of:

    1. Dry mouth or Xerostamia:–
        • Often the result of medications or poor health.
        • This can have an effect on dental health as saliva has a vital role in keeping the mouth clean.
        • Saliva is necessary for breaking down food for digestion, helps with healing in the mouth, buffers teeth therefore cleansing the mouth, helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease and assists with speech.
      • Treatment/Solutions:-There are a number of specialised products to help dry mouth, including types of toothpaste, gum and mouth rinses.
    1. Gum Disease/Gingivitis/Periodontics:–
      • This is when the tissues supporting the teeth are inflamed. This is due to a build-up on teeth produced by plaque and bacteria which combines with calcium in saliva to form calculus.
      • Signs of gum disease are:
      • Red and swollen gums;
      • Bad breath;
      • Bad taste;
      • Gum recession;
      • Teeth drifting
      • Loose teeth
    2. Gum disease can cause poor health in older Australians can contribute to other diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular(heart) disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, pneumonia, bacteremia and respiratory problems.
    3. Treatment/Solutions:- Regular professional cleans will help to keep the gums healthy.
    1. Oral Cancers:–
        • Prevalence of Oral Cancer increases with age.
      • Treatment/Solutions:- A full dental examination is essential to check for abnormalities, discolouration of tissues in mouth, lumps, swelling in neck and face, lymph nodes and saliva glands.
    1. Fitting Dentures:-
        • The incorrect fitting of a denture affects diet and gum health. The “worse” (or more ill-fitting) the denture/s fits the more negative the effects.
        • Dentures should be left out at night to rest the gums.
        • They should also be cleaned and soaked in denture cleaners.
        • Gums and tongue should be cleaned regularly.
        • Partial dentures should be taken out when cleaning teeth.
        • Always keep an eye out for damage or fractures to dentures.
      • Treatment/Solutions:- Dentures need to be maintained and your gums (and remaining teeth) checked by your dentist on a regular basis.
    1. Dental Erosion:–
        • Reduced enamel by erosion or abrasion can lead to tooth sensitivity and discoloured teeth and can sometimes even cause sharp teeth that may cut the tongue.
        • Acid attack on enamel, which can also lead to sensitivity, can be due to GORD, reflux or medications such as arthritis medications.
        • Tooth grinding or just plain wear and tear can make teeth sensitive and make it difficult to eat.
      • Treatment/Solutions:- Regular dental exams/check-ups can help diagnosis dental erosion and provide treatment solutions such as using sensitive toothpastes or fluoride rinses, mousse and/or toothpastes.
  1. Poor Overall Health:-
      • Can lead to poor dexterity, making it difficult to brush.
      • A healthy dentition can be destroyed in a few months by rampant decay, gum disease due to poor health or lack of plaque removal.
    • Treatment/Solutions:-
      • The prevention regime which aids in prevention of poor dental health is:
        1. Regular dental visits
        2. Use of fluoride rinses, sprays, toothpaste and/or mousses
        3. Brushing and flossing (can also use inter-dental brushes) twice per day.
      • To assist those whom find brushing difficult:
        • Electric tooth brushes can help, just be mindful to rinse the brush heads (once the power is switch off) after every use.
        • There are also manual (normal) toothbrushes with thicker handles, making easier to hold, which can assist those with arthritis.
    • Also visiting your medical GP regularly helps improve general, overall health outcomes.

Tips for care givers

Robertson Dental Innovations has put together a sheet with tips for care givers of the elderly. This sheet has general tips for those providing the oral health care for others. The form is available for download from our downloads page.

About the author

Dental Oral Health Therapist and Hygienist Glenys Shelton has been part of the team at Robertson Dental Innovations for over 5 years and has been involved in Dentistry in Bendigo for over 20. Glenys wanted to write this article when one of her regular older patients came to her for advice about Oral Health. Glenys then discovered that most of the information available about these issues was intended for a younger audience. Outside of work Glenys loves her cats and is an avid bushwalker.

Posted in Dentistry In Focus Articles, OHT Shelton