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Rosanne J. DiStefano

Question:

I work at an elder housing building coordinating services for the residents. Some of the people have numerous medical appointments every month. What I've noticed is few of them ever go to the dentist. Should I be encouraging them to continue with dental care?



Answer:

Dental care is important regardless of how old someone is. People don't reach a specific age and suddenly no longer need to be concerned about good oral health. The reasons people stop viewing care for their teeth as a priority, could range from the lack of transportation to get to the dental office to the financial strain of paying for adequate care. While it is true older adults may have different problems, which don't necessarily impact other age groups, regular visits to the dentist are equally vital to overall good health.

Older adults who wear dentures are very aware of the investment they have made in their mouth. Due to the high cost of false teeth, it is important for them to be well schooled on the proper care of the dentures. No one wants to pay for replacements any sooner than necessary. Dentures should be cleaned every day and stored in warm water or denture cleaning solution overnight. Gums, tongue and the roof of the mouth should be cleaned every day with a soft bristled toothbrush.

Regardless of whether an older adult has all of their teeth, wears a partial plate or full dentures, the person should routinely see a dentist every six months. Dentists or dental hygienists, in addition to comprehensive oral examinations and teeth cleaning, also can advise individuals about fluoride-containing toothpaste or what kind of toothbrush to use. And gum disease or oral cancer should concern everyone; the risk increases slightly as people age. Oral cancer is most treatable in the early stages, but detection is the key.

The cost of dental care is prohibitive for many older adults living on a fixed income. Dental insurance may have been available to them when they were employed, but the benefit was terminated once they retired. It is the exception rather than the norm for a company to offer dental coverage to retirees in addition to health care insurance.

People are always encouraged to seek out resources in their community such as dental schools offering clinics at significantly reduced rates, or local dentists willing to accept payment plans.



Rosanne DiStefano is executive director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley. Are you struggling with caring for an aging family member? Our eldercare advisers are available for no cost consultations. Call 978-683-7747 for additional information or to arrange assistance. Do you have a question? Direct inquiries by e-mail to ro@esmv.org.

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