Geriatric dentistry: oral health for seniors

Geriatric dentistry

In Switzerland, life expectancy is increasing. It is estimated that the number of people requiring dental care will rise to over 230,000 in the next 15 years. Demographic change means that dental care for the elderly will become increasingly important. To meet this new challenge, geriatric dentistry has emerged. Find out more about this new specialty, also known as gerodontology, which meets the special needs of senior citizens. 

What is geriatric dentistry?

In the elderly, the mouth is a part of the body that needs to be taken very seriously, as it can affect other bodily functions and organs. This is the basis of geriatric dentistry.

It's actually a branch of gerontology that deals with the oral health of people over 65. This population generally presents problems in the mouth due to age-related wear, degeneration and disease. 

During their training in gerodontology, dentists acquire the medical-dental and pharmaceutical knowledge they need to work with the elderly. He or she learns to provide general dental care using a comprehensive approach for elderly patients suffering from loss of autonomy or with complex medical conditions.

Oral health problems among the elderly

Neglecting oral hygiene can lead to complications that affect overall health. This is especially true as we age, which is why it's so important to dental care for the elderly in Switzerland. Indeed, having a healthy mouth is essential for maintaining a good quality of life.

However, the dentists in Lausanne or Fribourg deplore the fact that the elderly are the group least likely to contact dental professionals. Among the most common pathologies, they cite :  

  • Tooth loss: this phenomenon is the result of age, but also of poor hygiene. Beyond the aesthetic aspect, tooth loss can lead to problems with eating and speaking.
  • Xerostomia: this is the medical name for dry mouth. It can be a sign of tooth or gum disease. 
  • Root caries: as we age, our gums tend to recede, giving way to cavities in the roots of our teeth. 
  • Problems related to the use of dental implants or prostheses: if not properly maintained, they can lead to irritation, bacterial overgrowth or oral infection. 

Careful oral hygiene can reduce many risks to the general health of senior citizens. In fact, studies have shown that infections in the mouth are linked to diabetes, pneumonia and cardiovascular disease.  

Dental care for the frail elderly

Elderly people who are losing their independence are generally no longer in a position to take charge of their own oral hygiene. For their part, family and caregivers tend to neglect this aspect due to lack of time or training. All in all, the oral health of dependent senior citizens is much worse than that of the rest of the population. 

With this in mind, the Swiss Society of Dentists (SSO) is stepping up its prophylaxis efforts for the elderly. In collaboration with representatives of other professions, it has developed educational material for nursing staff. In the SSO's view, geriatric dentistry is a professional duty. It also believes that the obligation to provide dental care to the elderly should be enshrined in its code of ethics. For further information, please visit SSO website.  

Since 2015, an International Gerodontology Symposium has been held regularly in Bern. It aims to improve screening and patient management through training for healthcare professionals. These professionals need to be able to detect age-related medical and psychosocial deficits that could affect their oral health. 

Prevention tips for geriatric dentistry. 

Geriatric dentistry is all about maintaining good oral health in the elderly. Aging does not necessarily mean loss of teeth and quality of life. We can all take care of our oral hygiene today, for a healthy mouth in the future.

Here's what dentists in Fribourg and Lausanne have to say about senior citizens:

  • Stop smoking, as tobacco remains one of the major causes of damage to the mouth.
  • Adopt a balanced diet that provides all the nutrients you need to preserve your teeth. 
  • Maintain daily oral hygiene habits throughout your life.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to the strict minimum.
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year for a check-up and scaling. 
  • Inform the dentist of your medical history and any medications you are taking. 

The HELVIDENT team looks forward to welcoming you to one of our dental practices in Lausanne, Fribourg and Aigle. Our dentists and specialists treat patients of all ages. Don't hesitate to Contact us to book an appointment.