Geriatric dentistry: why oral health is overall health
PETALING JAYA: Geriatric dentistry is probably a term most Malaysians have never heard before, much less understand.
But with a growing aged population, this branch of dentistry will be central to preserving the dental health of the country’s many senior citizens.
A key concern today is that dental health is not taken seriously by most.
In fact, scheduling regular dental check-ups is practically unheard of, with most stopping by the neighbourhood dentist only when a serious toothache can no longer be ignored.
As for older folk, the main reason they visit the dentist is when a loose tooth, hanging on for dear life, threatens to fall off completely. Others visit a dentist to get fitted with a set of dentures.
Dr Meera Asokan, who has a special interest in geriatric dentistry, says what older Malaysians should be doing is investing in proper geriatric dental health.
She explains what geriatric dentistry entails and why it is important: “It is the delivery of oral care to older patients, many of whom require diagnosis, management, prevention and treatment of dental problems associated with age-related changes and diseases.”
Meera, aside from practising dentistry for the past 10 years, has done four years of clinical attachment in Special Needs Dentistry and also served as the head of the Special Needs Dentistry department at Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital.
“With growing awareness, and with most people wanting to maintain a healthy set of teeth for a longer time, we will all require the services for the aged at some point in time.”
Just as there are doctors who dedicate their practice to certain age groups – like pediatric care, for example – there are dentists like Meera who assist more mature and older patients.
In fact, geriatric dentistry differs from conventional dentistry when it comes to treating patients, as they usually require a multidisciplinary team comprising dentists, medical and allied healthcare personnel and if needed, a caretaker or family member.
Meera explains that the team evaluates the older person’s functional ability by assessing their oral, physical, cognitive and mental health.
The team also takes into account socio-environmental circumstances and reviews the patient’s prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal products.
“The aged population has its own unique problems and will generate new challenges and demands on the health services,” says Meera.
She also lists some of the more common medical geriatric ailments found in Malaysia, which include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and malnutrition.
Dental problems, on the other hand, include root caries, gingivitis, periodontitis, dry mouth, denture stomatitis, ulcers, oral thrush and oral cancers.
As such, she sees it as her responsibility to assist her elderly patients who sometimes, have both medical and dental concerns.
She does stress that this also means Malaysians should leave lots of room for improvement in regard to their dental healthcare, especially when it comes to their lifestyles.
“Diet does play a huge role in dental health,” she says, pointing out that Malaysian delicacies have an unfortunate tendency of being high in sugar, a red flag for those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes.
Despite the wonder that is Malaysian food and snacks, a healthier diet is necessary for healthier teeth.
Sugary diets, coupled with low dental awareness and poor oral hygiene make a hotbed for dental caries and decay, and gum disease – especially among those who smoke.
Diet aside, there are other ways to reverse the trend of poor dental health and help Malaysians keep their gleaming whites intact even in their old age.
Meera pointed out the obvious, that elderly Malaysians need to brush their teeth regularly with the right toothbrush. Also, flossing is a must, in spite of the fact that Malaysians fail to floss on a regular basis.
“However, those with reduced manual dexterity due to stroke or arthritis will face difficulties performing routine brushing, so it’s best to talk to your dentist, where a possible solution to this problem is to switch to an electric toothbrush and use floss-holding devices,” suggests Meera.
Regular dental check-ups, optimally twice a year, should also be a priority for elderly Malaysians. During these visits, elderly people who have been prescribed dentures ought to take the time to let their dentists check the fit and hygiene of said dentures.
Hygiene should be of utmost importance, according to Meera, who points out that poor denture hygiene has been linked to being one of the causes of pneumonia.
Refits may be necessary from time to time, and they will help keep one’s dentures from feeling uncomfortable. On top of that, loose dentures can cause ulcers, and more annoyingly, difficulty in eating food.
As for those with caregivers, Meera advises that the caregivers be trained in brushing and denture care. Any dentist will be able to provide assistance on this matter.
“And those in nursing homes may request for a dentist to come in to train the caregivers or auxiliary staff on basic oral hygiene care,” she adds.
Dental health may be a somewhat neglected facet of the Malaysian lifestyle, since the population is still relatively young compared to those in developed countries.
However, geriatric medicine has long been established in Malaysia, and as Meera says, the misapprehension that oral health is separate from general health has to change.
“By 2030, Malaysia is expected to be in the category of ageing nations with older persons constituting more than 15% of the population.
“This demographic change will have an impact on the delivery of oral healthcare.”
That being said, geriatric or not, it is never too late to start saving your teeth for your own comfort, so remember to brush your teeth twice daily, floss regularly, and most importantly, see your dentist at least twice a year.
To set up an appointment with Dr Meera, visit Thrive Dental’s Facebook page. Alternatively, you can contact the staff directly at (010) 234 1229.
Source from https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/leisure/2021/02/17/geriatric-dentistry-why-oral-health-is-overall-health/
Written by Noel Wong @ FMT Lifestyle