All About Teeth – Part 3 -Geriatric Dental Concerns

Smile Sarasota has many elderly patients – it’s a function of the Sarasota demographic. This presents unique challenges for us to provide great dental care and education for this population. It is estimated that 71 million Americans, approximately 20 percent of the population, will be 65 years or older by 2030.1 An increasing number of older persons have some or all of their teeth intact because of improvements in oral health care, such as water fluoridation, advanced dental technology, and better oral hygiene.  However, this population is at risk of chronic diseases of the mouth, including dental infections, decay, gum disease, tooth loss, benign and oral cancer. Increasing evidence has linked oral health and general health, suggesting a relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, rheumatologic diseases, and wound healing.

According to the American Dental Association, a fifth of people age 75 and older haven’t seen a dentist in the past five years. Even for patients eager for care, paying for it can be a problem. Medicare, which covers medical care for people 65 and older, doesn’t include routine dental care, and many seniors lose coverage through other insurance plans when they retire. Smile Sarasota is sensitive to all these needs and we provide for them, such as offering Care Credit to assist payment for dental treatment.

This fact sometimes comes as a surprise: as we get older, we enter a second round of cavity prone years. One common cause of cavities in older adults is dry mouth. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. However, it is a side-effect in more than 500 medications, including those for allergies or asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety or depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. This is just one reason why it’s so important to tell Dr. Still about any medications that you’re taking. He can make recommendations to help relieve your dry mouth symptoms and prevent cavities.

Also, many older adults have gum, or periodontal disease, caused by the bacteria in plaque, which irritate the gums, making them swollen, red and more likely to bleed. One reason gum disease is so widespread among adults is that it’s often a painless condition until the advanced stage. If left untreated, gums can begin to pull away from the teeth and form deepened spaces called pockets where food particles and more plaque may collect. Advanced gum disease can eventually destroy the gums, bone and ligaments supporting the teeth leading to tooth loss. The good news is that with regular dental visits gum disease can be treated or prevented entirely.

Mouth Cancer is another concerning issue. According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 35,000 cases of mouth, throat and tongue cancer diagnosed each year. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62. During dental visits, Dr. Still will check for any signs of oral cancer.

Many older patients need to take an antibiotic before dental treatment. Are you one of them? If you have a heart condition or artificial joint, be sure to tell Dr. Still. You may think it’s not relevant. After all, what do your heart and joints have to do with your teeth? But, there are conditions with a high risk of infection and an antibiotic is recommended prior to some dental procedures. Smile Sarasota follows recommendations that have been developed by the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in cooperation with the American Dental Association.

Here are three simple tips for seniors (and those of all ages) to help maintain healthy teeth and gums for life:

  • Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste
  • Floss at least once a day
  • Visit Smile Sarasota on a regular schedule for cleaning and an oral exam

These steps can prevent many problems, but tasks that once seemed so simple can become very challenging. If your loved one is having difficulty with brushing and flossing, talk with Dr. Still or our hygienists who can provide helpful tips or a different approach. For those who wear dentures, pay close attention to their eating habits. If they’re having difficulty eating or are not eating as much as usual, denture problems could be the cause. Smile Sarasota is here to help…call us with any questions, anytime!




Sources and Credits:, The Washington Post,,