Gerodontics or geriatric dentistry is the delivery of dental care to older adults, involving the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of problems associated with normal aging and age related diseases.
Because of advances in medicine, people generally have a much longer life span than in earlier times. This rise in life expectancy is attributed also to the reduction in mortality at different stages in life, which has been brought about by improved health care facilities, sanitation, environmental and public health reforms and also better hygiene and living conditions. The proportion of the elderly in developed nations by 2050 is expected to be around 20%.
The elderly patient may suffer from some of the many dental problems common to their age group. These include root caries, periodontal disease, missing teeth because of earlier neglect, ill-fitting dentures, oral ulceration, dry mouth, oral cancers and caries.
These problems may have been brought about because of neglect in earlier life, such as a poor diet, poor oral hygiene practices, like the failure to brush and floss the teeth regularly, and habits like smoking. Financial constraints and lack of family support may also contribute to poor oral health in the later stages of life. The eating of food, speech and ultimately the quality of life of the elderly may thus be compromised. Multiple medical conditions, the loss of independence, and uninformed attitudes about dental care in old age may also be barriers to proper dental care.
Geriatric dentistry requires time and patience on the part of the dentist. He must understand the particular fears and anxiety which a patient may have about visiting the dentist. The elderly person may have particular health complications such as dementia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis or muscle fatigue, all common ailments suffered by the elderly. Although such patients require even more time and understanding on the part of the dentist, they are often unable to pay large amounts due to the financial constraints imposed by their age.
When choosing an appropriate dentist for someone over 65, find one who understands the particular problems faced by the elderly. Gum disease and tooth loss are common in the over 65’s because of poor dental care generations ago when there was less oral education. Finding a dentist with a periodontal disease specialty would be ideal or failing that, the dentist should have someone who specializes in this area working in his office. Many of the older population wear dentures, so it would be advisable to find a dentist who makes and cares for these appliances.
Adult-onset diabetes is a disease which many older people suffer from. This puts such people at risk of oral infection after surgery, so a dentist experienced in treating older patients would be advisable. Such a dentist would have experience in dealing with diabetic patients and be able to provide the extra care and attention needed.
If you are at a loss to find a suitable dentist, ask friends in this older age group if they visit a dentist they feel comfortable with. A personal recommendation is often the very best way to go with geriatric dentistry.