Oral Health for Seniors

Seniors need and deserve the highest level of oral health care from a family dentist. Problems with teeth and gums become more likely with age, and the treatment approach can be slightly different for older patients.

Learn about some of the most common oral health concerns and how they are treated by Chester Family Dentistry dentists in Chester, VA.

Tooth Decay

The risk of tooth decay is present regardless of age, but it’s more likely to occur as patients approach middle age. Even if you’ve made it through most of your life without experiencing any significant tooth decay, you could find that you need some form of restoration as teeth and the structures around them begin to weaken as you get older. Tooth decay starts with plaque, bacterial activity, and cavities. Cavities can develop causing significant damage to the enamel of teeth. Once this reaches the dentin, things can get quite painful. The good news is that tooth decay is treatable if it’s mostly superficial and doesn’t reach into the pulp of teeth. For seniors, restorations are identical to those offered to younger patients.

Traditional Fillings

Traditional fillings are the most common restorative option for tooth decay. Your dentist at Chester Family Dentistry will remove some of the tooth enamel and damaged material before filling the tooth with a replacement material. These days, dentists at Chester Family Dentistry  typically use aesthetic composite fillings that are shade-matched to your teeth, so you won’t even know that the fillings are there.

Dental fillings can last for a long time, typically around ten years and sometimes longer. With maintenance and regular checkups at your dentist, you can prevent further tooth decay for your lifetime.

Gold Fillings

Gold fillings aren’t as common as they once were because most patients prefer the more aesthetic composite fillings. However, it’s still possible to have gold fillings and there are advantages to going with this option.

Gold will last much longer than composite fillings, usually at least 15 years. While they are more expensive, the enhanced durability helps to balance out the cost over time. If you need to get treatment for tooth decay you can discuss the benefits of composite or gold fillings with your family dentist at Chester Family Dentistry.

Dental Crowns

If the tooth decay is quite extensive then dental crowns can be recommended to treat tooth decay in seniors. This would be the best option if teeth are cracked or broken on the top. Crowns work similarly to fillings but instead of filling in a prepared cavity in the tooth, crowns replace a large section of the tooth.

The organic top of the tooth will be cleaned, any decayed material will be removed, and the tooth will be filed to prepare it for the placement of a crown. The crown will then be bonded on top of the tooth with special cement. There are different materials available for crowns including composite, ceramic, gold, and porcelain fused to metal. The best one for you depends on your aesthetic concerns and the cost.

You can get a detailed consultation with the dental team at Chester Family Dentistry, who understand the best ways to treat tooth decay in seniors.

Root Canal Therapy for Seniors

Root canal therapy is a commonly performed endodontic procedure that can treat infections in the pulp and roots of teeth. While root canals are routine for most younger and mid-aged patients, they are complicated when treating older patients.

Root canal therapy is a possible option to maintain oral health for seniors, but extraction may be recommended in some cases.

Why are Root Canals Risky for Older Patients?

There are risk factors for root canals in patients of all ages, but these become more prevalent in senior patients.

  • The canals can become blocked over time, which can make it particularly difficult to perform a root canal. Clearing out the infected material and the pulp is a difficult task even in a relatively healthy patient. With senior patients, the procedure becomes much more complex, which creates the risk of some infection being left behind.
  • If there’s infection and some pulp left in the canals at the end of the procedure, then the pain, inflammation, and damage to the root are likely to continue. This could mean that the patient will eventually end up needing an extraction. If you have an infected tooth or care for someone who does, then this should be considered carefully before deciding to go ahead with a root canal.
  • Even a highly experienced endodontist could have trouble cleaning the tooth of an older patient. Calcification occurs with age, so the softer layers of the teeth may no longer be as soft and accessible. The root canals in teeth are small and curved, so with calcification, access is far more difficult. This can lead to instrument breakage and an overall more complicated procedure. Adding time to the procedure can be stressful for senior patients.

What are the alternatives?

You will still have options if you have an infected tooth. If your dentist recommends against a root canal procedure, the tooth could be extracted and replaced with a partial denture. A crown and bridge restoration is also an option. A replacement tooth will be attached to the two adjacent healthy teeth using crowns. Dental implants are also a suitable treatment option. Contact your Chester, VA dentist at Chester Family Dentistry to discuss your options.

Dental Implants for Seniors

Dental implants are an alternative for seniors who have missing or heavily decayed teeth. Implants replace teeth completely, at the root and the crown. They are effective, easy to maintain, and can last for a lifetime.

There are several factors to be considered before determining if dental implants will be the most effective treatment option for seniors. Implants aren’t covered by most dental insurance plans, although some aspects of the treatment (like extraction) could be covered as a medical necessity.

Why Dental Implants?

Dental implants are often recommended for seniors because they are fully functional replacements for natural teeth. The risk of tooth loss increases with age. Dental implants can restore your smile to give you the confidence, aesthetic, and function that you deserve.

Before dental implants emerged in the 1960s, dentures were the standard for treating advanced tooth loss and decay. Traditional dentures sit on the gums, are uncomfortable, and don’t look as natural as modern implants. There’s another problem with dentures found in the way that they can limit diet, keeping patients from enjoying some types of food.

Other benefits of dental implants

  • Dental implants are embedded into the jaw, creating a stable foundation.
  • The bone fuses around the implant, reducing the loss of density and shape.
  • The crowns attached to implants look just like natural teeth.
  • Implants can also support permanent denture systems that are more reliable than loose dentures.

Dental implants are suitable for all ages once adult teeth have developed. Senior patients will see a similar recovery curve and healing time as younger patients, although it may take a little longer for implants to fully integrate with the jaw.

Implants can last a lifetime and have a success rate above 98%.

Are Medical Conditions a Contraindication for Dental Implants?

While dental implants are suitable for most seniors, there are some exceptions.

Conditions that interfere with healing can make the recovery process complicated. Diabetes, issues with blood clotting, and autoimmune diseases could make implants unsuitable.

All patients are screened for their suitability, including seniors. To learn if dental implants are right for you, talk to your Chester, VA family dentist at Chester Family Dentistry today.

Gum Disease

Gum disease is a common condition that is more likely to occur with age. Gum disease begins with mild swelling of the gums and can progress to receding gums and tooth loss. The earlier it is detected, the better the treatment outcome will be.

For seniors, gum disease treatment will often include root planing and scaling. This procedure involves elevating the gums away from teeth so that plaque and tartar can be removed from below the gum line. Teeth roots and gums will be thoroughly cleaned.

Gums recede with age, and this can increase the risk of gum disease. Grafting is a potential treatment for gum disease in seniors. You may have noticed that your teeth have become “larger” with time. What’s actually happening is that the gums are receding, exposing the roots underneath. This can cause a host of problems like sensitivity, an increased risk of decay and tooth loss, and the development of gum disease.

Gum grafting is a procedure where a dental surgeon will remove tissue from the roof of your mouth and graft it to your gums. This will integrate with the gum tissue, effectively treating any recession. Gum grafting is a common surgery and the gums heal quickly, usually within two or three weeks. The recovery time is much faster than bone grafting since the donated tissue will be healthy and fully developed.

If you experience bleeding gums, gum recession, or redness and swelling around your gums, your Chester, VA family dentist at Chester Family Dentistry can provide detailed consultation and diagnosis to determine the best course of treatment. Treatment for gum disease even in the senior years comes with a high success rate and minimal downtime.

Oral Cancer

Early detection is key to long-term survival from any form of cancer. Oral cancer is one of the rarer forms of cancer, representing just 3% of the cases diagnosed yearly in the United States.

Regular visits to your dentist are essential for oral cancer screening. Your dentist knows what to look for to identify potential signs of cancer, and can recommend a specialist for further diagnosis and treatment. Oral screening typically identifies cancer when it is at the stage of localized lesions, rather than distant metastases (cancer that has transferred elsewhere in the body).

Although oral cancer isn’t specifically a dental health issue for seniors, early detection and treatment are supported by regular visits to your family dentist.

When Should You Visit Your Dentist for Senior Care?

The best advice for senior patients and their caregivers is to book a dental appointment any time that something out of the ordinary occurs.

Schedule a consultation for:

  • Changes in tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
  • Pain in or around the teeth and gums.
  • Bleeding from the gums.
  • Loose teeth.
  • Damaged or darkened teeth.
  • Problems with existing restorations like dentures, crowns, fillings, or previously-placed implants.
  • Changes in the shape or appearance of gums.

Effective dental care starts with understanding the unique needs of every patient. While senior dental care is similar to that of care for other patients, there are unique approaches and factors to consider when treating the elderly.

Whether for yourself or someone in your family, you can get the best senior dental care from Chester Family Dentistry. Detailed treatment planning, a compassionate approach, and the best patient outcomes are available when you call (804) 748-0101 to book your appointment.