With the rapid growth of the aging population in the U.S., many Aspen Dental-branded practices, including mine, are seeing a rising number of older adult patients and increased need for elderly dental care.

Elderly patients have unique dental care needs. That’s why my practice focuses on making their visits easier for them in the following ways:

• Limit patients' time in the chair.
• Ensure patients' medical histories are evaluated when planning treatment.
• Thoroughly communicate with patients and their family/caregivers, verbally and in writing.
• Make sure the treatment fits the age and capabilities of the patient.
• Offer patients the opportunity to share experiences to make them feel welcomed and cared for.

PRACTICAL CONCERNS IN ELDERLY DENTAL CARE

According to the American Dental Association's Oral Health Topic on aging and dental health, potential physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments associated with aging may make oral health self-care and patient education challenging. Even what most consider “routine” practices—brushing at least twice a day and visiting the dentist twice a year—may be extremely difficult for older adults.

At my practice, we see many aging and older adult patients. If someone has multiple conditions that will affect the outcome of a successful treatment plan, then I reconsider standard treatment options to not only meet their physical needs but to limit their anxiety and give them peace of mind.

One of my colleagues, Sumir Mathur, DMD, who is an Aspen Dental practice owner in Phoenix, emphasizes the need to treat older patients in as few appointments as possible.

"For seniors with limited flexibility and transportation, it's vital to treat them in as few appointments as possible," Dr. Mathur said. "We use advanced technology and our in-house denture lab to help assess and treat patients at a more efficient pace."

Cristina Griffee, DMD, who owns two Aspen Dental practices in southeast Florida, and her teams also go above and beyond for the dental health of the aging.

"If they are limited to a wheelchair, we make sure to leave the patient in their wheelchair for most, if not all of the appointments," Dr. Griffee said. "When patients who have had back or knee surgery do sit in the dental chair, we offer the appropriate headrest, lumbar support, and knee bolsters."

AGING & DENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS & APPROACHES

In addition, specific dental conditions—including dry mouth, coronal caries, and periodontitis—are commonly associated with aging. Elderly patients also may show increased sensitivity to pharmaceuticals, local anesthetics, and analgesics.

When treating older patients with periodontitis, Dr. Griffee measures the difference between active infection and bone loss with mobility of teeth.

"Any infection should be treated aggressively; however, many elderly patients typically exhibit bone loss in the periodontium," she said. "If there is no mobility present and the patient isn't experiencing pain, it's best to be conservative in the treatment approach."

As every patient’s mouth is different, so tailoring treatment to the whole health of the patient is crucial, Dr. Griffee noted. "We look at the whole person medically and dentally to ensure a positive and healthy outcome," she said.

Dr. Griffee also noted that many elderly dental care patients may avoid needed treatment due to fear, cost, transportation, or other barriers. For those individuals, she encourages them to contact the nearest Aspen Dental-branded practice in advance to share their concerns. To find the closest practice and schedule an appointment, go to AspenDental.com and click on Schedule an Appointment or call toll-free to get more information.

Nathan Oakes, DMD, is Practice Owner of the Aspen Dental-branded practice in South Portland, ME. This article was originally featured on DrBicuspid.com .

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