If you are one of those people who think losing your teeth as you get older is just normal aging — you are wrong. It is not normal, and it isn’t a product of aging. It is a product of not giving the mouth the care that it needs while you are aging.
I became interested in the topic of geriatric dental care when a graduate student working on her degree in public health conducted a series of focus groups gathering information from 21 older adults. The purpose of gathering this information was to learn more about the financial condition of older adults and how this effects their use of health care. Incomes of the 21 people ranged from $725-$2,213 per month (married and unmarried). Most do not see a dentist. The reasons are two-fold. First is the cost. Medicare does not pay for dental care or dentures. Second, they don’t believe it’s really necessary.
If this group of 21 people is any reflection of what older adults in Erie County think is true, then allow me to share some pertinent information about dental health care in later life.
• People 65 and older, who still possess their natural teeth, have more tooth decay than those who are younger.
• Older adults who have a problem with dry mouth are susceptible to dental decay. Saliva bathes the teeth and helps to prevent tooth decay. Medications treating pain, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, anxiety and overactive bladder often have a side effect causing dry mouth. Hence, an increased likelihood of tooth decay.
• Aging does cause the gums to draw away from the tooth. This exposes the root of the tooth and makes it easy for cavities to develop.
• Brushing and flossing are great ways to prevent these problems, but arthritic hands and poor vision make brushing and flossing easier said than done — therefore, it’s often not done.
• Loose teeth are not a sign of aging. It is a sign of tooth decay and advanced gum disease. You can prevent losing your teeth in later life by practicing good oral hygiene and having regular dental checkups and cleanings.
• Oral cancer can be detected by a dental examination. 28,000 cases are reported each year. Those who smoke or use tobacco are at the highest risk (healthinaging.org).
One study of 125 senior citizens age 80 and older, published in the Journal of American Geriatrics, found the older adults who had three or more active root caries also had more than two times the likelihood of having heart problems, known as arrhythmia (medicalnewstoday.com).
Serving Our Seniors is seeking 30 older adults in Erie County to be part of a geriatric dental care pilot project. If you cannot afford a dental exam and believe you have a dental problem, we invite you to call our office and apply to be part of the Geriatric Dental Care Project. Understand that in order to study those who truly cannot afford to see a dentist, the application process does ask questions about your personal finances. At a minimum the dental care project provides for a thorough examination and cleaning (if appropriate), as determined by the dentist.
If Serving Our Seniors does not receive enough applicants to the Geriatric Dental Care Project, it will consider applications from Erie County senior citizens who have not seen a dentist in two or more years. For information, call Serving Our Seniors at 419-624-1856 or 800-564-1856.
Q: I am 66 and on Medicare. I need to have my eyes examined and new glasses, but I can’t afford it. Who can help me?
A: There is a National Eye Care Project that exists to help people 65 or older. It requires that the person has not had a medical eye exam in the last three years. You may qualify for the Foundation of the American Academy of Opthalmology’s Eye Care America Project. They will match you with a volunteer ophthalmologist in your area who has agreed to provide a comprehensive medical eye exam and up to one year of follow-up care for any condition diagnosed at the initial exam. According to their literature, there is no out-of-pocket expense to you.
We assisted one individual in applying for this project a couple years ago, and she was very pleased with the service. We would be happy to help you, too. Call the National Eye Care Project at 800-222-3937 to set up an appointment. We can do this with you through a three-way phone call. Feel free to call our office at 419-624-1856 or 800-564-1856 if you would like our help.
Q: Is it too late to sign up to get help with my taxes?
A: No. This service is available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Erie County Senior Center. On Mondays, volunteer Income Tax assistance will be available from 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. AARP volunteers will be available from 9 a.m. -noon Wednesday and Thursday.