How oral health care changes with age

Caring for senior patients presents a number of unique challenges.

Here are some tips to help you develop a treatment strategy that works for an older age group.

Educate patients on the importance of continuing care

Many seniors presume that tooth loss is an inevitable part of aging. Inform your patients how diligent brushing and flossing, as well as regular cleanings and checkups can prevent tooth decay.

Also, explain the role of saliva in decay prevention and how older teeth are more susceptible to decay as saliva production decreases. Ask patients if they are taking any medications that can cause dry mouth. If so, it might be beneficial to suggest adding an additional brushing to the daily routine.

Decreased ability to sit through complex treatments

It can become difficult for senior patients to sit through long, restorative treatments. It may be necessary to focus on simpler procedures like filling cavities, even if there’s a risk that a tooth could be lost down the line. Be sure to inform the patient of the potential implications of foregoing restorative care, and leave the final decision up to them.

Working around other health issues

In additon to dental hygiene, senior patients may face other health issues simultaneously. You may need to work a patient in more quickly to take advantage of a good health window, or be more flexible with appointment cancellation and rescheduling.

Financial challenges

Paying for more expensive dental procedures is a common problem among retirees. In some cases, an alternative financing plan will sufficiently solve the problem. In other cases, you’ll need to rethink the treatment plan in order to make it more affordable.

Short-term memory loss

Working with patients who suffer from memory loss can be frustrating. They might not remember what you covered during their last visit, have trouble following your suggested care regimen and understanding treatment options. You may need to gently ask these patients to bring a child or guardian to their dental visits to discuss care options as a team.

Transportation

Patients who no longer drive may find it difficult to get to dental appointments. Research senior services in your area that offer transportation and support. Keep their contact information handy so that you can offer it to elderly patients who are having trouble getting to the office.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to senior care planning. Staying flexible and thinking outside-the-box are necessary.