As baby boomers age, the number of seniors requiring dental care is expected to become larger than ever before. People in this age bracket have a number of specific needs, some due to the general ageing process, and others due to particular experiences of this generation.

Baby boomers are far more likely to have natural teeth than previous generations were at the same age. As the population ages, it is reasonable that people in their 70s and 80s require and expect replacement of failing restorations, or replacement of a tooth.

Most dental restorations breakdown with time due to the mechanical and chemical forces found in the mouth. Many of these past restorations were not designed to reinforce teeth; instead they just ‘filled the hole.’ As a result, teeth restored in this manner are now cracking and require replacement with something larger or stronger.

Medical conditions and medications will affect oral care of seniors. Seniors tend to take multiple medications, many of which will reduce the flow of saliva, causing a dry mouth. Medications that reduce anything from blood pressure, pain, hay-fever, fluid retention, asthma, all have the ability to reduce salivary flow resulting in decay. Some research has shown that 30% of people over 65 and 40% of people over 80 have a dry mouth. Having a dry mouth will predispose a person to an increased rate of dental decay where the natural buffering effect of the saliva is removed.

Reduced manual dexterity and failing eyesight may also all contribute to an increase in plaque deposits on teeth, hence increasing the risk of dental decay. It is important to use good quality fluoridated toothpaste. Fluoride will help to strengthen the roots of the teeth which may now be exposed due to gum recession. It is not uncommon to see a patient who has not suffered from dental decay since childhood, to develop decay in their 70s or beyond.

Medical conditions that require a family member or carer to help with daily brushing add another degree of difficulty in maintaining a healthy mouth. As the population ages, so does the number of people suffering dementia. These problems are increasingly likely to occur after the age of 60.

Mobility issues for senior patients are another consideration in maintaining optimal oral health. Wheelchair access to dental surgeries and the provision of a hoist on site are important items required to care for an ageing population. As always, the key to minimising the effects of decay in patients of any age and state of health is regular dental maintenance.

Dr Ian Sweeney is a dental surgeon at
Northside Dental & Implant Centre, Turramurra.