We often think about the physical and mental health issues associated with aging, but dental problems tend to increase as we get older as well. In fact, dental issues are one of the most common health complications that the elderly must deal with. Dental issues associated with aging include periodontal (gum) disease, xerostomia (dry mouth), coronal and root caries, and sensitivity to anesthetics and analgesics, which can be a barrier to treatment.
While proper dental hygiene can help ward off future issues, already-existing dental problems may require a different solution. That’s where restorative dentistry comes in. All ages may benefit from this type of dentistry, but certain treatments require special considerations for older adults, warranting a closer look at restorative dentistry for the elderly community and what you need to keep in mind.
Dentists use fillings to treat minor dental issues such as cavities, which requires removing the decayed portion of the tooth and replacing it with the filling. Fillings can also be used to repair cracked or chipped teeth. When a filling isn’t enough to repair the damage, dentists will likely suggest an inlay or onlay instead.
Fillings don’t last forever. Over time, they may break down or lose proper seating on teeth, creating space for food and bacteria to sneak in and wreak havoc. This means that, in addition to getting new fillings to address new decay, seniors should get their old fillings checked regularly. Sensitivity to cold or hot substances may indicate that it’s already too late, and your filling has failed.
When a filling, inlay, or onlay won’t do the trick, dentists turn to crowns to protect weak teeth and repair decaying teeth. A crown serves as a “cap” that encloses the part of the tooth that sits above the gums, thus strengthening the tooth, improving its appearance, and restoring its original form.
The lifespan of dental crowns is generally around 15 years, so elderly individuals who got crowns earlier on in life may eventually need to have them removed and replaced. Factors that influence crown longevity include the person’s habits and oral hygiene and the type of material the crown is made of (metal, stainless steel, resin, ceramic, or porcelain).
Sometimes, severe infections or tooth decay make repairing the tooth impossible, and a tooth extraction is the only option. Unfortunately, advanced age, comorbidities, and medication side effects may make tooth extractions more complicated for the elderly. Tooth extractions may also entail more pain and discomfort and additional healing time for this population.
Be sure to discuss your health with your dentist prior to tooth extractions, specifically going over your comorbidities and any medications you are currently taking.
Many patients turn to dentures after having teeth extracted. Although we often think of dentures as a full set of false teeth, dentures come in both partial and complete options, so those who still have some natural teeth can also benefit from them.
To ensure optimal function, dentures need to fit properly in the mouth. This can become problematic over the years, as people’s weight changes as they age, which can affect the structure of the gums and mouth. As dentures gradually lose their fit, chewing can become challenging and painful, causing some individuals to avoid certain foods. Malnutrition often results.
To avoid the negative consequences of ill-fitting dentures, bring your dentures to a dentist for adjustment as soon as they start bothering you.
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