Age isn’t the only thing that brings wisdom. As we get older, frank honest conversation with your dentist and benefits provider can help make sure you maintain good oral care.
Open Conversation Can Reveal Things Even X-Rays Can’t
As we get older, there are adjustments we need to make to maintain healthy mouths. Updating your dentist with your health issues and keeping them informed about new medications you may have been prescribed will help them give you the best treatment and advice for your oral care.
For example, you may think dry mouth (and how dry mouth can contribute to new cavities in older adults) is just a side effect of getting older. It’s not. Dry mouth is a known 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. By informing your dentist about any medications that you’re taking, your dentist can make recommendations to help relieve your dry mouth symptoms and prevent cavities. Some common recommendations are to:
- Use over-the-counter oral moisturizers, such as a spray or mouthwash.
- Consult with your physician on whether to change the medication or dosage.
- Drink more water. Your mouth needs constant lubrication, not just when you feel thirsty
- Use sugar-free gum or lozenges to stimulate saliva production.
- Avoid or cut back on foods and beverages that irritate dry mouths, like coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks, and acidic fruit juices.
- Your dentist may apply a fluoride gel or varnish to protect your teeth from cavities.
Many older adults have periodontal disease that cause gums to become swollen, red and more likely to bleed. A major reason why gum disease is so widespread is that it can be 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? Regular dental visits can help your dentist spot the symptoms early and treat or even entirely prevent gum disease.
If you see open sores, white or reddish patches, and changes in the lips, tongue and lining of your mouth that lasts for more than two weeks, it’s important to tell your dentist. These could be early symptoms of mouth, throat and tongue cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 35,000 cases of these cancers diagnosed each year. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62. During dental visits, your dentist will check for any signs. Regular dental visits are important because in the early stages oral cancer typically does not cause pain and early detection saves lives.
Paying for Dental Care after Retirement
Many retirees don’t realize that Medicare often doesn’t cover dental care. Make sure you talk with an ASBA representative to find out about a dental plan through ASBA. By being insured, you’re ready for dental expenses and you don’t have to worry about either your dental or financial health. And that’s something to talk about!