Typically, we make sure our family has regular checkups, but is your older loved one following the same schedule? Experts are guessing the answer is probably not.
According to the Center for Disease Control, a little over half (60 percent) of today’s senior adults visited a dentist in 2013 despite the fact that one in four of seniors aged 65 and older have gum disease. This segment of the population is in need of proper dental care since many of today’s serious diseases can be linked to tooth decay or gum disease.
“It is thought that poor dental hygiene allows a proinflammatory state that is associated with CAD,” wrote Youngsoo Cho, MD., “I must emphasize that this is not a proven cause, but studies have shown an association with tooth decay and Coronary Artery Disease.”
Other studies have found correlations between poor oral hygiene and diabetes and pneumonia.
Yes, Aunt Cora needs to visit the dentist, but there are a number of challenges seniors face when it comes to dental care. Three of those reasons include, financial, transportation and lack of prevention.
Put your money where your mouth is
“Unfortunately, only about 2 percent of older Americans have dental insurance,” wrote contributor Chris Hawkins for SeniorLiving.com. “This means that many end up going without. And the older the person, the more likely they are to need dental care for a variety of reasons.”
At present, neither Obamacare nor Medicare provide dental coverage. However, there are programs at a state level that can offset the cost of dental care.
Running your mouth off
Oftentimes, it is the responsibility of a loved one to transport a senior to various medical appointments. If that kind of support doesn’t exist, the condition of his or her mouth will decline.
The good news is that many senior facilities are proactively taking the matter of dental care into their hands.
“It’s really hard to find good dental benefits for seniors. Medicaid does cover some but it’s limited in most states. However in a long-term care facility like Provo Rehab and Nursing, there is an internal dentist that makes sure residents have routine cleanings and checkups,” said Loralee Hatch, business director at Provo Rehab and Nursing.
Here’s something to chew on
As with most health conditions, prevention is the best defense against serious disease, and dental care is no exception. It is common for many of your loved ones’ medications to create dry mouth, which encourages tooth decay and disease. Also treatments requiring chemotherapy or radiation to the head or neck can damage or destroy oral tissue.
Seniors can counteract the potential damage of medications or treatments by drinking lots of fluids, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, and adopting a routine of regular brushing and flossing. In some cases, it is difficult for your loved one to brush their own teeth. In situations of dementia or other medical limitations, seniors may not cooperate. The best strategy is to talk with your loved one’s doctor and discuss your dental concerns with the skilled nursing or assisted living facility. You will find that everyone involved wants the best for your senior and will work together to be sure your senior’s dental needs are addressed.
“Keeping your mouth healthy keeps your overall system in shape, especially in your senior years,” said Hatch, and that’s worth smiling about.
This article was previously published by the Daily Herald and republished here with permission.