Older patients need special attention in the dental chair


It is estimated that by the year 2040, adults over the age of 65 will account for 21 percent of the U.S. population. And as their ranks increase, a growing number of older adults will need dental care in years to come, according to the March/April 2004 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) clinical, peer-reviewed journal.

Dentists must address the special needs of these patients and tailor treatment plans to fit these changing needs. "The reality is, there are going to be more and more older patients," says James W. Little, DMD, AGD spokesperson. "It's a matter of dentists getting used to older patients."

Presently, about 85 percent of individuals over 65 have one or more chronic illnesses, and 30 percent have three or more chronic illnesses. Elderly patients' immune systems are not as strong as their younger counterparts', making dental problems like periodontal disease harder to manage.

Older patients also need to be particularly vigilant about both their medical and dental health, especially when many medical conditions can also cause problems in the mouth.

As people age, saliva output is reduced, making them more susceptible to cavities and periodontal disease. If left untreated, these can lead to tooth loss and other problems.

Many medications can also reduce saliva production, so older patients need to tell their dentist if they suffer from dry mouth. Dentists can also help identify health conditions beyond the mouth.

"We see things in the mouth that could be related to other systemic problems," says John C. Chandler, DDS, MAGD, AGD president. "If we identify those, we encourage patients to talk to their physicians about it."

Older patients can make their dental visits go more smoothly by preparing in advance. With many older patients taking an average of six to ten medications, it is helpful to bring a list of medications they take, especially for the first visit.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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