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Dental and Oral Health (Seniors)

Introduction

What is Geriatric Dentistry?

Geriatric dentistry deals with special knowledge, attitudes and technical skills required in the provision of oral health care to older adults. Currently over 13.7% of the U.S. population is aged 65+ years, and this proportion will increase to 23% by the year 2040. The state of Ohio is one of nine states where the older adult population constitutes an increasingly significant percentage of the population.

Oral health is particularly important among the elderly. They are more susceptible to systemic conditions, making them predisposed to developing oral diseases which can directly or indirectly lead to malnutrition, altered communication, further susceptibility to infectious diseases, and diminished quality of life. Today, approximately 40% of older adults are edentulous (toothless), while the remaining 60% of individuals 65 years of age and older retain some or all of their natural teeth.

In May, 2000, the first-ever Surgeon General's report on oral health identified dental and oral disease as a "silent epidemic" and called for a national effort to improve the oral health of all Americans. This report also documented profound disparities in oral health and identified poor Americans, especially children, the elderly, and members of racial and ethnic groups, as those suffering the worst oral health.

Recent research has determined that oral health and quality of life of older adults can be compromised by discomfort and pain caused by dental and oral disease. Some 120 physical or mental conditions may lead to either symptoms in the oral cavity or may affect an older person's ability to perform good oral hygiene. For example:

Xerostomia (dry mouth), a common problem among many elderly, can result as a side effect of using certain medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-hypertensives, anti-psychotics, anti-parkinsonism medications and anti-inflammatory agents. There are over 1000 medications that cause dry mouth. Dry mouth can interfere with a person's ability to speak, taste, chew, and swallow. A person with dry mouth may experience pain, irritation, or difficulty in using their dentures. Tooth decay and gum disease can develop and progress faster in an environment of dry mouth because dental plaque tends to accumulate faster when saliva production is decreased.

Diabetes mellitus - Older diabetics are at risk for oral infections and impaired healing that can result in gum disease and other oral conditions.

Gum disease and systemic diseases - Recent research indicates an association between periodontal disease and certain systemic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis in the elderly.

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Last Reviewed: Jun 09, 2005

Abdel Rahim   Mohammad, DDS, MS, MPH, FAAOM, FACD Abdel Rahim Mohammad, DDS, MS, MPH, FAAOM, FACD
Clinical Professor of Geriatrics
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University