Polishing up our oral health

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Jill Gilbert
Jill Gilbert
No matter one's age, oral health is extremely important. Problems that start in the mouth can negatively affect other conditions and hamper overall wellness. And in an elderly population, often there are already many major health issues to contend with.

Kristin Outlan, DDS, whose practice in Los Angeles serves the elderly, talked with Gilbert Guide about the importance of oral health and how it's linked to overall health. In diabetics, for example, excess plaque routinely leads to oral yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Broken or ill-fitting dentures can cause serious infections, which can be overlooked during a routine exam. The problems become even worse when patients cannot verbalize their discomfort.

Overdue regulations

Nursing homes across the United States are ignoring the signs of deteriorating oral health in their residents. Many needs go unmet until a resident is no longer able to wear dentures or starts losing weight.

Why is this happening? It could be that legislation is long overdue; some states don't mandate that nursing homes have a dentist on staff.

Simple steps to take

Despite the fact that the American Dental Association doesn't currently recognize geriatric dentistry as a focused specialty, some dentists have taken the initiative on their own, working exclusively with elderly patients.

Outlan is one of these dentists. In fact, for the past eight years, the bulk of her practice has included providing on-site dentistry services in nursing homes. She believes that many problems can be avoided by performing regular oral health screenings and stepping up patients' daily oral health routines.

“It's not fancy dentistry,” Outlan says. “Ensuring that aides are cleaning dentures properly is a part of basic oral care. CNAs are the first line of defense.”

Next month, we'll continue the discussion with Outlan, with a deeper look at the link between oral health and overall health in the elderly.


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