What is gerodontology?
This is a dentistry specialisation that studies, treats, and prevents oral diseases in persons over 65 years of age. Gerodontology is a new field, created to meet actual demand for oral disease treatment in older patients. With scientific and medical advances, the average life expectancy increases. Therefore, people live longer. In addition, the falling birth rate increases the ageing population. In Portugal, it is estimated that around 32% of the population are elderly people. For these reasons, gerodontology was created for older patients and their needs. The aim for dentists specialised in this area is to provide better and more efficient oral health treatments to older patients.
What are the major oral changes during the ageing process?
- Decreased sense of taste.
- Xerostomia, commonly known as dry mouth. This happens due to a change in the salivary glands, which may be a side-effect of medication or caused by diseases that attack these glands.
- Dry mouth causes the retention of epithelial cells and food remains, which creates microorganisms. For this reason, older people may have halitosis.
- Xerostomia makes the process of chewing food, swallowing, and speaking more difficult. These elements lead to a poor and low nutrient diet, which undermines health in general.
Bone tissue will go through some changes, such as low endurance. Reabsorption will also be increased while receding gums and mobility and loss of teeth will also occur.
- The loss of teeth is frequently caused by tooth decay, periodontal disease (inflammation and infection of the support tissues), and mobility caused by low bone density and dental infection.
How to prevent dental degradation in older patients?
- Dental hygiene and regular dentist appointments are the best way to prevent xerostomia, tooth decay, periodontal diseases, and mouth cancer.
- Avoiding sweets and soft drinks while following a well-balanced diet based on fruits, vegetables, and fibres will enable older peoples’ bodies to function better and improve their oral health.
Importance of Prostheses and Dental Implants in Older Patients
Ideally, an elderly person should be able to recover lost dentition by using the best and most effective modern treatments—in other words, implants. Nevertheless, our country shows a different reality. Most elderly people cannot even afford a removable acrylic prosthesis. At this stage of their lives, retirement provides a lower income and the costs of implantology, even the accessible ones at our clinic, are too high for these persons. Ideally, if the State contributed for these treatments, it would prevent diseases that will bear a higher cost to the country later, such as treating gastrointestinal, digestive, and psychological problems.
Implants to Support Dentures
Perhaps this is the most demanded procedure for patients over 60. These fixed dentures are known as overdentures. Inferior removable prostheses will get loose and oscillate due to bone loss in the mandible. The only way to solve this is by placing two implants on the mandible, fixed to the denture. This procedure increases prosthesis stability, while restoring masticatory and phonetic function. Teeth are not only important for chewing, speaking correctly, and preventing dental related diseases. It also has a more comprehensive goal that includes facial aesthetic, psychological well-being, and social inclusion of the elderly person.
A toothless older person without an appropriate prosthesis will seek isolation and fall into depression. Dealing effectively with these problems is the aim of gerodontology. This dentistry field focuses on the oral health problems of elderly people and tries to solve them, increasing their comfort and quality of life.