Dentistry for Seniors, Part II

January 2006

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

In Part I of this article, I discussed the first three topics noted above: Dry Mouth, Tooth Wear and Excessive Staining and Dental Decay (Root Surface).

I will conclude in Part II with the remaining three topics:

The following conditions are general concerns for patients over 50 years old that should be routinely evaluated by a dentist:

  • Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
  • Tooth Wear and Excessive Staining
  • Dental Decay (Root Surface)
  • Gum Disease (Periodontal Disease)
  • Loss or Alteration in taste
  • Denture Care

Gum Disease (Periodontal Disease)

The most common cause of tooth loss in adults is gum disease. Bacteria create toxins which inflame and irritate gum tissue. Over the years, a slow progressive detachment occurs that affects the supporting bone, which dissolves. Tooth loss eventually results, especially if left untreated. The elderly are more prone to this condition as a result of smoking, poor diets, poor oral hygiene habits and certain medical conditions. It is imperative that one have regular dental checkups to determine if they have this condition.

Loss or Alteration in Taste

Many seniors experience the loss of their taste sensation as they age. This can occur as a normal result of aging. However, certain diseases and medications can increase the incidence of taste loss. Ill fitting dentures or other removable dental appliances can increase the alteration of taste. Patients should always notify their dentist and/or physician if they have any type of alteration or loss in their taste sensation.

Many new and exciting treatment alternatives have been developed in dentistry over the years that can help seniors restore their teeth to a much more functional, healthy and youthful look.

Denture Care

Approximately 40% of older Americans wear full or partial dentures. Many have adapted quite nicely. However, many denture wearers have encountered problems, both emotionally and physically. Some people have trouble eating and some may have repeated sores, which can be quite painful.
Some frequently asked questions are:

What is the best way to get used to my new dentures?
As with any new appliance, dentures may feel quite odd. They may cause increased saliva flow or they may alter speech. One should start by cutting food into small pieces, avoid hot foods, and avoid hard foods until the tissue, where the denture rests, becomes used to the new teeth. As time goes by, one will become accustomed to them.

Do I brush them like real teeth?
No, dentures should be cleaned, if possible, after each meal. The best way is to remove them and rinse them. If one is able to, brushing the dentures is advised, as well as rinsing the mouth to clean it of any debris. If some natural teeth do remain, brushing them is suggested. Always soak dentures at night after brushing them. Over the counter cleaning agents are available. Keeping the dentures soaked prolongs them from warping. It is also much healthier to keep the teeth out overnight to avoid excessive pressure on the soft tissue and bone. Always remember to brush your tongue and lightly brush the gums with a soft toothbrush. Special denture brushes should be used on the dentures.

When is it time for a new denture?
As the years pass, the tissue and bone may shrink slightly. The dentures will then loosen. Also, as one loses or gains weight, one may notice that the denture may loosen. Dentures, if the dentist advises, can be relined to help tighten them. However, if their bases are too far gone, a new one may need to be fabricated.
As always, even a full denture wearer should visit the dentist on a regular basis to get an evaluation of the palate, tongue, and surrounding tissue for any problems. Sore spots should not be ignored. See the dentist if adjustments are needed.

Dr. Harden is a dentist with Fountain View Family Dentistry, serving Woodstock, Canton, Kennesaw and Marietta for 16 years. Dr. Harden is the Restorative Director for study clubs in Cherokee County and Cobb County. He is a national advisor for two dental research companies. He performs pediatric care, cosmetic “smile make-overs”, and comprehensive restorative services, including implants. [srharden@bellsouth.net]