With Mother’s Day fast approaching, people around the country are preparing to pay tribute to the matriarchs of their families. Celebrations often include outings, gifts, flowers, cards, and meals at favorite restaurants. But not every mother gets to enjoy these traditions and festivities. For the 5 million seniors who are permanently homebound, simple things like enjoying a meal out are challenging, if not impossible. Even the act of eating poses significant obstacles for many of America’s elderly because of neglected dental care. Adult children and caregivers have an opportunity to demonstrate their affection and respect by helping their homebound loved ones lead healthier, more enriching lives. And with the advances in mobile dentistry, care comes to them.
Oral Health Challenges for Seniors
The Invisible Homebound
An academic study published by Mount Sinai (“Oral health status and needs of homebound elderly in an urban home-based primary care service,” R Gluzman, H Meeker, P Agarwal, S Patel, G Gluck, L Espinoza, K Ornstein, T Soriano, R V Katz, Spec Care Dentist 33(5): 218-226, 2013) projected the elderly population to reach 88.5 million by 2050, echoing concerns about the number of permanently homebound individuals:
In 2012, when that study was published, about 13% of the population was 65 years or older. Today, that number has risen to 16.5%, based on data from the Population Research Bureau. More distressing, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 51% of these seniors live alone. The bigger challenge, however, is finding a way to treat the permanently homebound—a group of over 5 million seniors, an increase from 2 million in 2012, who have functional limitations that confine them to their homes. Many of them experience profound difficulty accessing office-based care. Some can’t at all. Because of this, they rely on overwhelmed family caregivers or succumb to illness.
Physical and Cognitive Impairments
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the physical and cognitive impairments associated with aging hinder efforts at self-care for normal oral hygiene. Seniors with dementia may forget to brush their teeth. They may not remember how to brush. Seniors with arthritis may struggle with brushing and flossing because of pain in their hands or fingers. And for seniors who must take prescription medications regularly, the side effects of certain drugs produce adverse changes in oral health.
Health Risks Increase with Age
“Dental health is a vital component of your overall health,” wrote Lucy Wyndham in Dental News. “Oral health issues like periodontal disease and tooth decay have been linked to systemic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and infection. With age, the risk of tooth loss and other oral health problems increases, with more than 27% of people over age 65 having no remaining teeth. Edentulism can make it difficult to enjoy a varied, nutritious diet, which leads to further health complications and can diminish a person’s overall quality of life. For people in assisted living communities, it is important for caretakers to be aware of the dental needs of seniors and to take steps towards preventing dental and periodontal disease.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pointed out that by 2060, 24% of the population will be over the age of 65. And they face growing oral health risks:
- Untreated tooth decay. Nearly all adults (96%) aged 65 years or older have had a cavity; 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay.
- Gum disease. A high percentage of older adults have gum disease. About 2 in 3 (68%) adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease.
- Tooth loss. Nearly 1 in 5 of adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth. Complete tooth loss is twice as prevalent among adults aged 75 and older (26%) compared with adults aged 65-74 (13%). Having missing teeth or wearing dentures can affect nutrition, because people without teeth or with dentures often prefer soft, easily chewed foods instead of foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Oral cancer. Cancers of the mouth (oral and pharyngeal cancers) are primarily diagnosed in older adults; median age at diagnosis is 62 years.
- Chronic disease. People with chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more likely to develop gum (periodontal) disease, but they are less likely to get dental care than adults without these chronic conditions. Also, most older Americans take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs; many of these medications can cause dry mouth. Reduced saliva flow increases the risk of cavities.
Maintain Routine Care
The Blende Dental Group recommends that seniors take preventative steps to mitigate their risks of oral health problems and diseases.
- See a dentist twice a year to have teeth cleaned and examined
- Rinse with mouthwash once or twice a day (only if it can be done without swallowing)
- Floss at least once daily
- Brush twice a day
- Seek solutions for missing teeth, such as dentures, implants, or full mouth restoration for serious conditions
- Oral cancer screenings (at Blende Dental Group, we include screenings as part of every checkup and cleaning for patients of all ages)
Sometimes, however, these “simple” practices are far from easy for seniors with mobility or cognitive challenges. But forgoing dental care should never be an acceptable option. The modernization of house calls, mobile dentistry, and portable equipment overcomes these hurdles for seniors and those who care for them. It’s also a cornerstone of the Blende Dental Group, which is home to House Call Dentists.
Let Dental Care Come to You
Mobile dentistry: Care in the comfort of familiar surroundings
Our fully equipped team of dentists, registered dental assistants, and mobile hygienists provide in-home dental evaluations and treatments with portable dental equipment. Based on our assessment, we determine the level of care required and whether treatment can be delivered in the home or under sedation in our office or the hospital. Providing sedation in any of these locations allows us to complete care in as few as one or two visits.
Caring for Seniors Is Our Specialty
We partner with families, care facilities, and health care providers – including dentists, physicians, care managers, and social workers – to develop a targeted daily dental care plan that complements successful treatment. When homebound seniors experience discomfort, we’re dedicated to making treatment as comfortable as possible. Initial visits include exams, digital x-rays, cleanings, and emergency care as needed to rapidly eliminate infection or pain. Our medical and dental teams meet or exceed hospital grade standards for sterilization safety.
Our multidisciplinary team of nationally recognized dentists, anesthesiologists, and MDs allows us to offer everything from palliative treatment to full-mouth restoration in the safety and comfort of your home. We bring state- of-the-art mobile dental technologies to people who are homebound or have difficulty traveling to a dentist. We provide preventative, restorative, and emergency care 24/7/365. Our teams handle the setup and breakdown of all portable equipment, as well as access to our teledentistry platform, which provides real-time access to video visits with your dentist, treatment plans, and more.
Give Your Mother the Gift of Health
Most people would probably question the notion of dental care as a Mother’s Day gift. But if you’re the adult child of a homebound senior, you understand how vital quality of life can be. The simple joys of eating a cherished meal or being able to speak and smile without complication are crucial aspects of interaction, socialization, engagement, and happiness. At Blende Dental Group, we adamantly believe that no barriers to dental care exist. We’ve built on our practice on this concept. So this Mother’s Day is an opportune time to spread the smiles and the love.