Dental care for a lifetime of smiles
For the last seven years dental hygienist Ashifa Dharamsi has taken her practice out of the dental office and into the community. Making stops at long-term care facilities and private homes, Strictly Prevention Inc., provides oral assessments and dental cleanings, with a focus on prevention.
She points out that maintaining healthy gums and teeth can be especially challenging for seniors.
As we age, our teeth age along with us and poor oral health can affect health overall. Teeth become more brittle, gums recede and we produce less saliva, which allows food particles and bacteria to linger and cause decay. Poor dental health is thought to be linked to heart disease, stroke, and respiratory problems. Those with dental problems who are unable to chew are at risk for progressive weakening brought on by malnutrition.
Risk of oral cancers increases with age. Also, embarrassment over tooth loss and bad breath can cause seniors to withdraw from their supportive social circle.
Despite the challenge, Dharamsi is positive about the prospect of having healthy teeth for a lifetime. She says that due to good dental care over the last few decades, more and more people are entering old age with their own teeth. She points to the example of one of her patients: a woman who at 106, and still getting around with a walker, had a full set of her own teeth. When Dharamsi asked what she had done to maintain her dental health, the woman answered that her parents always stressed the importance of caring for her teeth. The 106-year-old said she brushed regularly, went for regular checkups and made caring for her teeth a priority.
A significant barrier to good dental care that some seniors face is cost. Since dental services are not covered under the Medical Services Plan, seniors must pay in full for their dental visits or purchase private dental insurance. The Canadian Association of Public Health Dentistry reports that among seniors 60 to 79, 53 per cent have no dental coverage.
A U.S. report on seniors’ dental care use found that whether or not they had dental coverage influenced their likelihood to visit the dentist. Those who lost dental coverage were more likely to stop going to the dentist. The report concluded that the result of this lack of dental care could mean more complicated and costly procedures in the longer term.
Dharamsi emphasizes that good oral care is the best way to prevent dental complications. She has some simple tips to ensure teeth and gums stay healthy for a lifetime:
Take frequent sips of water throughout the day.
Rinse with water after meals to remove any remaining food particles.
Brush your tongue daily—as far back as you can without gagging.
Brush your teeth twice a day, at least, with a focus on the gum line.
Avoid using toothpicks as they can damage the gums. Instead, try using an inter-dental toothbrush, available at drug stores, to remove material that gets stuck between teeth.
Eat a healthy diet. Avoid sticky sugary foods and sweet juices.
Schedule regular appointments with your dentist and dental hygienist.
One option for seniors who find it difficult to get to the dentist office is to make an appointment with a visiting dentist or mobile dental hygienist.
Contact the BC Dental Association at 604-736-7588 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of mobile dentists on the North Shore. For contact information of mobile dental hygienists, contact The BC Dental Hygienists Association at 604-415-4559 or email@example.com.
For those unable to afford dental fees, there are a number of low-cost clinics in the Lower Mainland. The UBC Dental School clinic, 604-822-2112, runs a general dentistry clinic. Many colleges that offer dental hygiene programs offer low-cost cleaning and preventive treatments. Call the institution directly for information or obtain a list of locations from the College of Dental Hygienists of BC at 1-800-778-8277. To download a copy from their site, cdhbc.com, go to the “Forms and Resources” tab and click on “Affordable/Lower Cost Clinics in BC.”
The need for regular dental care doesn’t stop at retirement. It’s clear that, when it comes to our teeth, a little prevention goes a long way to preserving a healthy smile and to saving us costly dental bills.