Dental Care for Older Adults

Dental Health in the “First Forty Years”

The first forty years is the period during which adults make sacrifices for their children, and it is a time when your priorities become secondary to those you are responsible for taking care of. Some feel guilty when they take care of their dental problems during this period because they think their resources should be spent on their dependents. During this period, emphasis should be on prevention.

Sometimes the prevention requires that you restore multiple teeth with crowns before they turn into more extensive work. This may be the period that requires that you wear a bite guard to protect your new crowns and prevent damage from clenching at night. If you have established good habits, early routine maintenance and an occasional crown or filling will be all you would need.

This is when you help your family establish good habits and keep your family’s dental costs down. It is also the time when the easy solution is not always the best.

Dental Health in the “Second Forty Years”

The second forty years put you in the position to do what you have always wanted to do for yourself. If you had poor dental care early and have taken care of the children, you now have time to take care of yourself. During this time, many patients seriously evaluate their priorities and summon the courage to make their treatment decisions based on what will be the best for the long term.

Sometimes the missing tooth that you had ignored can be restored by an implant. We have to be prepared that space cannot accommodate an implant or the bone is shrinking, or the adjacent tooth has moved partially into the area. Sometimes the bone has shrunken to the point where nothing short of a major procedure like grafting some hip bone can help you out. The consequences of the first forty years are coming back to help you or to give you regrets. Hopefully, you will never know the inconvenience of wearing a removable appliance.

You quickly rush to the bathroom after eating to try to get a seed from under your plate, and you try to be cool about it when your friend comes into the bathroom and greets you. You lock the door, so your partner never gets to see you without your plate because you have to take the plate out to get the seed from under it. You cannot go to a new restaurant because you cannot adequately chew what is on the menu.

The flip side is you never knew what it is like to be without your teeth. You are not embarrassed by your smile.

You eat nuts, salads, fruits, meats, or whatever you want. You don’t have a denture container to carry around when you go on an overnight trip, and you are convinced that it is great to be alive and have your teeth.

Dental Health in the “Third Forty Years”

The third forty years is a cautious time of your life. Your dental health has impacted your quality of life. Early in the 1900s, the Mayo Clinic found that most people who enjoy a long life have their teeth. Back then, they were not sure why, but now we know that dental disease can exacerbate other systemic diseases and affects your quality of life.

I am reminded of the gentleman who came in at age ninety-five to have his teeth restored and told me the story of why he decided to do so. At age eighty, I decided I did not have long to live, so I did not have my mouth fixed. Now it is fifteen years later, and I realized that I spent all that time in discomfort when I did not have to.