Traditional and Alternative Oral Health Care for the Elderly

Neon dentistPeriodontal disease is cited as the number one cause of tooth loss after the age of 35.

According to Dr. Steve Bornfeld, DDS, from Brooklyn, NY, periodontal disease – often referred to as gum disease – is an oral condition characterized by inflammation of the supporting structures of the teeth: the gums, bone, and periodontal ligament.

The Bacterial Origin of Periodontal Disease

“It is bacterial in origin, but also depends on the immune reaction of the individual,” said Bornfeld. “Loss of teeth is related mostly to depletion of the bone surrounding the roots. The teeth loosen until they have to be removed or fall out on their own.”

Gum recession is characteristic of periodontal disease in the elderly. “The most common health effects are sensitivity and decay,” said Bornfeld. The root surface becomes exposed to gum recession. Root decay can be very difficult to control, especially in the presence of poor oral hygiene. Bornfeld recommended more frequent checkups for older adults with periodontal disease.

Alternative Treatments for Aging Teeth

Carrie Ibbetson, Registered Dental Hygienist, founder of and Natural Gumption seeks out alternative treatment and products for the care of aging teeth. The Orange County resident has contacted many nearby retirement facilities to assist them with residents’ oral health, especially plaque issues.

A specialist in homecare oral health, Ibbetson offers alternative dental products for older adults and caregivers. “Teaching older adults to take care of their teeth is more important than scaling to reduce plaque buildup.”

Home Remedies for Older Adults

Happy Sad Teeth

Ibbetson has devised home remedies for elderly people with arthritic dexterity issues. She recommends cutting a hole in a tennis ball and inserting the brush into it for a bigger handle. Or wrap a wash cloth around a tooth brush to make a larger handle to get in between the teeth more effectively.

The California hygienist refers to the 2001 Guinness Book of World Records which recorded periodontal disease as the number one disease affecting mankind. Ibbetson said that the Surgeon General’s report shows that 23% of people aged 64 to 74 years-old have severe periodontal disease.

“As we get older we lose our thin saliva,” said Ibbetson. “Thicker acidic saliva replaces it and retains bacteria.”

The result is ‘dry mouth’ syndrome in older adults. “Eighty per cent of medications cause dry mouth,” she said, “and multiple medications in the elderly community lead to an increase of dry mouth.”

Report from the US Surgeon General

The US Surgeon General backs Ibbetson’s assertion, revealing that most older Americans take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The inhibition of salivary flow increases the risk for oral disease because saliva contains antimicrobial components as well as minerals that can help rebuild tooth enamel after attack by acid-producing, decay-causing bacteria. Individuals in long-term care facilities are prescribed an average of eight drugs. 1. The US Surgeon General National Call To Action To Promote Oral Health 2013.

“There is a huge deficit of oral health care in retirement communities,” agrees Ibbetson.