Good oral hygiene is paramount across all ages, but it becomes even more critical later in life. Despite more awareness being brought to the forefront about the urgency for better dental care for seniors, proper – and even adequate – care is still severely lacking. The American Dental Association has found that over one fifth of seniors ages 75 years or older haven’t stepped foot inside a dentist’s office in 5 years.
Some individuals who fall into this category have most likely voluntarily opted out of dental care their entire lives. There will always be people who have never wanted to schedule cleanings, appointments, and procedures with their dentist. However, there are a number of reasons why some seniors begin to put distance between themselves and their oral hygiene:
A pattern of neglect.
Some individuals are cognizant of their ailing health. Some are of sound mind and can recognize when their teeth are decaying and falling out. Some feel the excruciating pain of taking a bite of food and choose to fight through it. This consciousness means they know that going to a dentist means a future of health procedures, and many would rather deal with the consequences of poor oral hygiene than seek professional help.
Restricted mobility or lack of transportation.
Unlike those who voluntarily opt out of proper care, there is another group of individuals who are not opposed to seeing a dentist but either can’t maneuver around independently or are unable to legally transport themselves to a dentist’s office.
Physical and mental health complications.
With age comes worsening physical and mental problems. Individuals who suffer from disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer’s often fail to understand why a common dental cleaning or procedure is necessary for them. They refuse X-rays or simple cleanings or, depending on how severe their condition is, can lash out against a loved one or dental professional who is trying to help.
Cost of dental insurance.
Even an individual who is adamant about care may not be able to receive it due to a lack of funds. Medicare and Medicaid are both very restrictive about who is eligible for dental insurance. If an elderly patient doesn’t have access to a good dental plan or doesn’t have an adult child who can help to cover costs, it means that good oral hygiene becomes a luxury rather than a necessity.
As more studies show the correlation between good oral hygiene and a better quality of life, more individuals and organizations are advocating for better dental care for elderly patients. Just recently, the Center for Oral Health conducted a statewide assessment in California measuring the state of dental issues in its seniors. Here is what they found: 38 percent of people in long-term care facilities don’t have any remaining original teeth left. For those that have at least one remaining tooth, it was in a state of severe decay. 1 in every 7 seniors studied required immediate care for their condition.