How to address 2 common dental issues in older patients

By Alex Dagostino, DrBicuspid.com associate editor

July 26, 2022 -- As patients age, dry mouth and caries become more common. Researcher Anita M. Mark explained the causes and what dentists can do to help prevent these conditions in older patients in a survey published on July 22 in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

According to Mark's survey, dentists say that dry mouth and caries/cavities are the conditions they most frequently see in patients age 65 or older. Precancerous lesions, tooth wear, and gum disease can also be common in this age group.

"Together, [patients and oral health providers] can discuss the causes of these diseases; things to watch for; behaviors that can reduce the risk of, or prevent, these problems; and treatment options," Mark wrote.

Common issue No. 1: dry mouth

While there are many reasons that may cause a patient's mouth to be dry, among the most common are medications, long-term diseases, Sjogren's syndrome, and tobacco and alcohol use.

To best control dry mouth, Mark suggests that patients sip water or sugarless and caffeine-free beverages. Patients can also try sucking but not chewing on ice chips and using sugar-free gum or sugar-free candy to stimulate the production of saliva.

Patients with dry mouth should avoid eating salty and spicy foods, drinking alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, and using tobacco products.

Common issue No. 2: cavities and root caries

Older patients have a higher risk of cavities developing on the roots of teeth. As patients age, their gum tissue may pull away from the tooth to expose the softer root surface.

Dentists have several at-home fluoride options to stop and reverse caries. They can prescribe a high-fluoride toothpaste or gel to be used at home, and some may recommend using a mouth rinse with fluoride in it, Mark wrote.

Dentists also have in-office fluoride options. Fluoride varnish applied on the whole tooth or a limited area can help prevent cavities. The varnish dries quickly and usually needs to be applied more than once, Mark noted.

Additionally, fluoride gel administered with a tray allows teeth to absorb fluoride to prevent caries. Like fluoride varnish, fluoride gel usually needs to be applied more than once.

Oral care routines and diet are also important caries prevention strategies. Mark suggests advising patients to brush their teeth with over-the-counter fluoride toothpaste twice per day, cleaning between teeth daily with dental floss or an interdental cleaner, eating a healthy diet and limiting sugary drinks and snacks, and visiting the dentist regularly.


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