A lot of things happen when you turn 80: you’re officially retired and the dream of competing in the Iron Man triathlon or climbing Mount Everest has faded. But, enjoying each and every meal, eating whatever you want, and smiling ear-to-ear is the one thing that doesn’t have to end. Many of my older patients prioritize restoring their teeth as an absolute “must have” to increase their current life satisfaction.
My goal is to give you real-life cases where geriatric patients benefitted from dental care. One patient, “David,” recently added a healthy mouth to his “must haves.” David was 91 years old. He had multiple spaces in his mouth and significant decay among his remaining teeth. Restorative dentistry with crowns and bridges was the recommended treatment plan. At his age, this could be a challenge, but David’s primary doctor cleared the procedures. David was ready to embark on a journey that ended at the all-you-can-eat buffet table.
The first phase began with a 10-crown fixed bridge for his lower arch. The next winter David was ready to restore his top arch. After completing this additional dental work, including 13 crowns, David was beyond excited. He was able to chew and eat anything and everything with his own teeth. The last report from David was that he was a big hit with the ladies in New York.
In another case, a new patient that I will call Gladys visited with her 24-hour aide. She wanted precision partials, which are retained in the mouth by means of mechanical interlocking components. They fit snugly, are cosmetically more appealing than conventional dentures, and blend in with the conformity of the remaining natural teeth. This type of restorative dentistry is very complex and Gladys was 96 years old! My initial decision was to talk Gladys out of this course of action. The next day I received a call from her loving son ,whom I will call Larry. Larry assured me that his mother was up to the challenge and he fully supported her decision 100%. After receiving the appropriate medical clearances, the treatment was completed in 5 months. Gladys was extremely grateful. From that day forward, she was known to have the most beautiful and vivacious smile. She went on to live to 104.
Finally, a man very active in the local political scene visited my office. “John” was 85 years old and didn’t like his lower removable denture. He was worried the denture would fall out while he was speaking publicly in front of large audiences. John’s treatment consisted of placing 6 implants. John now has permanent fixed implants and is very, very content with his new smile.
As a dentist, my goal is ensuring my patient’s happiness. I also want to encourage physicians and healthcare providers to realize that being a senior doesn’t mean that everyone wants to give up on their teeth. For many, being able to eat whatever they want, go out to restaurants and enjoy every meal helps them lead an enjoyable life.
Don’t neglect your resident’s oral health or be part of the “epidemic” of bad dental care. For those who are in good health and reasonably independent, make sure to provide options so they can investigate what dental services are right to them. Good oral health is the key to their future.
Joel Glicksman, D.D.S., is a dentist in Aventura and Pembroke Pines, FL, and has extensive experience with geriatric dentistry.