Senior Health

1/26/2022 | By John Levan

While the pandemic has made it easy to put off a trip to the dentist, the importance of dental care means we must continue to make our regular dental pilgrimages. Seniors Guide looks at the reasons why.

Far too many people have been skipping their routine dental appointments since the start of the pandemic. Their fears of infection in a close-contact situation have caused them to view these check-ups as non-essential procedures.

On one level, this makes sense. After all, the health care community advised individuals not to leave home to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus. However, dental check-ups and hygiene are critical to overall health, especially for senior adults.

And new research indicates that avoiding dental care could pose a greater health risk than COVID. Consider this:

The importance of dental care

The pandemic might have provided a reason (or excuse!) for not visiting the dentist. But there are many more benefits you can derive from making that appointment. And while an attractive smile will probably be at the top of most lists, many less obvious, but quite significant, advantages come from those regular visits, including:

  • Preventing gum disease: Almost half of all adults aged 30 years or older have signs of gum disease. Although minor gingivitis can be treated with proper oral care, serious gum disease, known as periodontitis, is difficult to fix but relatively easy to prevent with appropriate oral hygiene and regular check-ups. Potential complications from gum disease include rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and problems controlling blood sugar in diabetes.
  • Avoiding tooth loss: Nearly 70% of adults between the ages of 35 and 44 have lost at least one permanent tooth to decay. Losing a tooth affects your appearance and increases your risk of bone loss, depression, and anxiety.
  • Warding off bone loss: Serious gum disease can open pockets, allowing bacteria to infect the bones holding your teeth. This infection can lead to tooth loss and affect the function of your jaw bone.
  • Preventing cancer and other health issues: During a check-up, your dentist will examine your face, neck, tongue, and throat for abnormalities that might signal the early stages of oral cancer. Success rates are considerably better when cancers are detected early.

The safety of dental offices

Because many older adults already may have multiple chronic diseases or conditions, they are more susceptible to nosocomial infections, i.e., infections that you get while in the hospital for another reason. However, avoiding a visit to the dentist can result in limited food choices, an inability to chew properly, weight loss, impaired speech, and other debilitating effects.

Since the risks of ignoring dental health are so high, can you trust the safety of dental offices? There is no denying that every time you leave your home, you increase your COVID risk, but remember that dental offices are designed to fight infections. Virus prevention and extra precautions have already been built into each dental procedure.

Related: Why and how to avoid excessive sugar consumption

Dentists and hygienists had used personal protective equipment (PPE) and routinely cleaned and disinfected their equipment long before the pandemic began. They have been thoroughly trained in dealing with infectious disease risk because it has always been a part of their operations.

Examples of the infection control procedures in dental offices

Most dental practices follow the recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (call your dental office in advance to ensure they adhere to the COVID safety standards).

Before you are admitted to the examining room, the staff will have cleaned and disinfected the dental chair, light, drawer handles, and countertops. Some offices even cover their equipment with protective covers and replace them after each patient.

All permanent dental tools are cleaned and sterilized before each new patient, while disposable tools and needles are not reused. All dental personnel use PPE and throw away gloves and masks after each patient.

Regular dental care is even more important in older adults

The importance of dental care, including daily oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, becomes increasingly critical as we age. One reason is the more frequent occurrence of dry mouth in seniors, leaving them vulnerable to decay-causing acids. Another is the wearing away of enamel after many years of biting down and grinding food.

Yes, we continue to experience a worldwide pandemic, but experts agree that it is not a good reason to ignore dental care!

John Levan

Freelance writer John Levan focuses on insurance, finance, and manufacturing as well as senior living topics. Based in Pennsylvania, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from Alvernia University and Master of Arts in humanities from California State University, Dominguez Hills.