Dental Care for Senior Citizens: Key Concerns and Solutions

Do senior citizens in Australia do enough to take care of their teeth? This certainly varies from person-to-person, but as an example, in Tasmania (which is the state with the oldest population), dental health issues are the primary cause of admission to hospital. While these conditions are serious enough to warrant admission to hospital, the vast majority of these conditions were preventable. As you get older, practising good oral hygiene can become more difficult for a variety of reasons. So what are some key issues that can affect your teeth as you get older? And what can you do to prevent these problems?

Common Dental Issues for Senior Citizens

Even adults who take exemplary care of their teeth are not immune from the effects of aging when it comes to dental health. As you get older, your dental enamel (the hard protective coating on your teeth) becomes thinner. Once this enamel has been breached, dental acid can corrode your teeth, leading to cavities. Certain medications that are more commonly needed by senior citizens can also play a part. Medication used to treat high blood pressure, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease can cause a reduction in saliva production. Your saliva plays a valuable role in neutralising dental acid, meaning that a lack of saliva can make your teeth more susceptible to decay. Poorly-fitting dentures can also create a space for bacteria to develop, which once again can cause problems for your remaining natural teeth. This is why dentures need to be relined on a regular basis, as determined by your dentist.

Issues Associated with Parkinson's Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Those who suffer from Parkinson's disease and rheumatoid arthritis might encounter problems when it comes to practising proper oral hygiene. Rheumatoid arthritis can make the very act of cleaning your teeth become painful. The stammers associated with Parkinson's disease can also make it difficult to effectively clean your teeth. Technology can be of assistance here. You should consider investing in an electric toothbrush and a water flossing device. An ultrasonic electric toothbrush uses both the action of the cleaning head along with high-frequency vibrations. The rotations of the cleaning head when coupled with the vibrations mean that plaque and food debris can be dislodged without the same amount of motion (scrubbing) that would be needed with a manual toothbrush. You simply need to move the toothbrush across the surface of your teeth, as opposed to vigorously scrubbing with it. A water flosser directs a jet of water between the gaps in your teeth to dislodge debris. This is infinitely easier than manual flossing.

Seeking Treatment

You should also take advantage of free dentistry as needed. If you have the necessary funds, then you can certainly visit a dentist of your choosing. If you are on a reduced income, then you might wish to make use of public dental services. Changes to public dentistry were introduced in the 2016 Federal Budget, meaning that senior citizens in possession of a Commonwealth concession card (a Health Care card) can now access a wide range of free dental services. Be aware that the waiting time can be considerable, so it's important to register as soon as possible. Contact the Department of Health in your state or territory to find out the location of your nearest public dental health provider. If you require urgent dental care and cannot afford to be treated privately, you might be eligible for a government-funded voucher for the cost of the services. Again, you should contact your local Department of Health to enquire.

Good oral hygiene is important at any age, but it becomes arguably more serious the older you get. Fortunately, there are government schemes (and dental technology) that exist to help you.