A geriatric dentist is a person who is responsible for the dental care of geriatric patients. Geriatrics is the branch of medicine concerned with the health care of older people, and elderly patients make up a large part of many dental practices. A dentist specializing in geriatric dentistry has received additional education and training in topics such as treating adults with special needs, preventing age-related conditions, and understanding the special needs of aging patients. The main role of these dentists is to provide dental care for elderly patients.
They can also help with:
- Dental care for older adults with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, or other conditions that may limit treatment options.
- Appropriate dental care for adults of all ages who are on anticoagulant therapy (blood-thinning medication).
- Prosthodontic treatment for adults with special needs.
- Cosmetic dentistry that’s tailored to the needs of older patients.
- Pain management and comfort during dental procedures, using sedation methods appropriate for the elderly.
- Guidance about changing oral health issues as the face changes over time.
Why Should You See a Geriatric Dentist?
As you age, your mouth ages too. Consequently, the teeth and gums are more likely to be affected by conditions such as periodontal disease, dry mouth (also known as xerostomia), and other oral health concerns. You should see these dentists if you have any of the following conditions.
If you have a medical condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, COPD, or stroke, your dentist may refer you to a senior dentist. You may have special needs because of age-related sensory impairments that could affect how you communicate with your dentists during treatment.
It is also possible that your oral health is compromised by your use of medications for other conditions. If you are an older patient with special needs, your dentist may refer you to a specialist in the eldercare field or social services.
Geriatric conditions include dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, age-related dental conditions, mental health issues, and changes in your oral cavity.
Oral Health Problems Related to Aging
Your teeth may become more brittle and break more easily as you age. You are also at greater risk for tooth loss due to periodontal disease, gum diseases, and oral cancer. The dentists have the training to help adult patients with special needs maintain their teeth as they age. The dentist will review your health history to determine your oral health risks and recommend ongoing care to prevent problems.
This is a condition of the mouth in which saliva production is decreased. The decrease of saliva’s natural antibacterial properties can increase bacterial plaque on the teeth that leads to tooth decay, periodontal disease, and other oral problems. You may suffer from xerostomia if you take medications for high blood pressure or pain, get radiation therapy in the head and neck area, have a condition such as Sjogren’s syndrome, or if you are experiencing stress.
Speak to your dentist about any health conditions affecting your oral health. They can help you manage these problems for healthier teeth and gums.
Your gums may become more sensitive as you age, which is an early sign of gum disease. Other symptoms include bleeding gums when brushing your teeth, bad breath, and red or swollen gums. See your dentist for professional cleaning and a checkup at the first sign of gum problems.
Your tooth-supporting soft tissues may be more at risk for this disease as you age due to factors such as diabetes, smoking, a compromised immune system, and a lack of oral hygiene. If not treated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss. It can also affect how you chew and speak and your overall health.
Your blood glucose (sugar) levels must be monitored to prevent serious medical problems like cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, and tooth decay. The American Dental Association states that uncontrolled diabetes puts you at risk for periodontal disease and gum disease. Your dentist can help you manage your blood glucose levels and treat dental problems before they become more serious.
Bad Breath (Halitosis)
It is common to experience bad breath temporarily due to dietary choices or dry mouth. However, if the problem persists and you do not know its cause, see your dentist for a checkup. If you have an underlying medical condition causing your bad breath or dental problems, your dentist may refer you to a specialist.
Symptoms of oral cancer include red or white patches in the mouth, ulcers that do not heal within two weeks, and pain while chewing or swallowing. Your dentist can detect early signs of this potentially deadly disease and refer you to a specialist for treatment.
Your oral health is important, but it can be impacted by your age, medications, and medical conditions. Speak to your dentist about how you are feeling during dental visits. If they do not ask, then it may be best to raise any problems that concern you.