By 2030, around one third of the population will be over 60. At the same time, life expectancy is on the rise as well. Therefore, dentists will have to start focusing more on the special situation and particular needs of the elderly.
The natural ageing process is also associated with changes in hard tooth tissue, gums, and jawbone: Dental enamel wears off and gets thinner, revealing the dentine underneath and giving the teeth a darker and more yellowish colour. Tooth socket inflammation (periodontitis) degrades the gums and connective tissue, the jawbone retracts, and teeth loosen or are lost. Some diseases that are common with old age, such as diabetes mellitus, rheumatism, and cardiovascular diseases might aggravate such inflammatory processes. And going in the other direction, oral inflammations can affect the rest of the body, negatively influencing the course of chronic diseases. Dentists need to place even greater focus on holistic, interdisciplinary correlations when treating older patients.
The general objective of geriatric dentistry is to preserve the patient’s own teeth and overall hygienic dental state for as long as possible.
The most important factor in this regard is prophylaxis. In fact, the increase in general awareness of the importance of dental care has by now led to a greater share of elderly people who manage to both retain more of their own teeth and retain those teeth for longer. Nutrition that benefits dental hygiene, sound dental care at home, regular control visits to the dentist, and professional dental cleaning (depending on individual risks) might help preserve healthy teeth and gums up to a very old age, which will also be of benefit to overall health.
Losing teeth might result in more than just changes to dental structure and speech impediments, it might also reduce chewing efficiency. With older people, this might lead to nutritional deficiencies, or even malnutrition, because of avoidance of solid foods that are hard to chew, such as meat, fruit, and vegetables: Instead, they opt for soft and mushy foodstuffs, which often have higher sugar and fat content. As a result, the chewing muscles degrade, which leads to a reduction in the locking force of the jaw. In order to prevent such undesirable developments and the damages caused by the, tooth gaps should be closed quickly and permanently. Therefore, the focus of geriatric dentistry is placed on proper prosthetic care.
Follow-up appointments and check-ups remain important, even after prosthetic treatment: To take an example: The condition and fit of removable dentures need to be checked regularly, for uneven pressure stresses might result in an increase in jaw bone reduction.