Treating Elderly Patients-Our Approach
While age 65 is generally recognized by many agencies as “the elderly”, practitioners view the aging patient as one within a wide age range around this arbitrary point.
The interdisciplinary nature of gerontology (which is defined as the study of aging) necessitates a perspective which integrates biological, dental, psychological, and social aspects of aging as well as the implication of these issues on treatment planning. It is important for current providers of oral health care to understand aging in order to meet the needs of this population. There is a difference between the perceived needs and the professionally determined needs of seniors who maintain all or part of their teeth.
First and foremost, dentists and the dental team should provide professional senior dental care service that is sensitive and caring. Your dentist should be cognizant of the life circumstances of these patients and tailor treatment plans accordingly.
Problems facing practitioners treating elderly and senior patients require excellent judgment on the part of the practitioner. Such judgment depends on a thorough bio-psycho-social assessment of the patient’s history and realistic treatment planning. It is of utmost importance for your dentist to be well-trained, understanding, compassionate, and to be aware of the special needs of the mature population to be able to provide superior senior dental care.
As the population ages and an increasing proportion become institutionalized or homebound, there will likely be an increase in undertreatment of caries (dental decay), periodontal disease (gum disease) and partial or complete edentulousness (loss of teeth). In fact the majority of people over age 50 have root caries (decay around the neck or area of the teeth closest to the gums). The elderly and seniors are also prone to periodontal disease, an infection of the gums or the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. In fact, nearly 25 percent of all Americans aged 65 and older have lost all of their teeth. The threat exists for teeth that were carefully maintained throughout childhood and adulthood to be compromised due to diverse medical, behavioral and financial factors that affect the mature adult population.
Dr. Antonious is committed to helping you and your loved-ones maintain a healthy dentition. Education – coupled with preventive dental care – keeps seniors from suffering with gum disease, bone loss and tooth loss.
Older adults often put off dental care, using excuses such as limited or fixed income, more pressing medical appointments and concerns, and increased anxiety about dental conditions and treatment. Additional barriers include the functional and medical status of the individual, transportation and accessibility difficulties, previous patterns of dental utilization, lack of education, and as mentioned previously – fear.
The majority of elderly believe they have no need for dental care until they develop pain or eating difficulties, or suffer from social embarrassment.
Indeed, in consultation with our dental team, caregivers sometimes ask if they should invest in the dental care of an elderly family member. Does it make sense to repair the teeth of a person in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s?
While we understand the limitations of a fixed income, we strongly discourage mature older patients and care-givers from ‘cutting corners” when it comes to dental maintenance and treatment. If left untreated, periodontal bacteria can enter the blood stream and travel to major organs where it can begin new infections. We know that these infections can lead to serious diseases such as heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and osteoporosis. These infections threaten elderly patients who may already be compromised by diabetes, high blood pressure, or other medical conditions. Without appropriate dental care, the patient suffers from discomfort and is at great risk for serious illness which could lead to an expensive stay in the hospital, admission for convalescent care – or death. Ultimately, to reduce medical complications and costs, and to sustain life enjoyment, dentistry must remain an important part of a general health routine for the debilitated senior population.
Dr. Antonious treats aging adults with the same consideration as all of his patients, evaluating each case thoughtfully and individually. To remain active and engaged in full lives, older persons need strong teeth and gums – to support speech, the enjoyment of food and good conversation. Strong teeth facilitate digestion and deliver essential nutrients to the fragile systems of the older adult.
Dealing with the elderly and senior patients requires an understanding of and sensitivity to the medical, psychological and financial states of these patients.