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Helping Seniors Smile

An Interview with Horocia Falcon

It’s important to take care of our teeth and gums throughout our lives, not only for a healthy mouth but also for a healthy body. As we age, medical conditions, medications, and mobility issues affect our oral health.

Here, Dr. Horacio Falcón of Falcon Dental Group in Harper Woods provides us with expert advice on retaining the teeth we have and options to replace those lost.

What are the recommendations on how often we should visit a dentist’s office for cleanings, exams, and x-rays?

If you’re healthy, don't get many cavities, and don't take medications, you can see a dentist twice a year and get x-rays every other year. If you have gum disease, are prone to cavities, and/or take a lot of medications, then the suggestion is every three to four months for cleanings. After three months, the good bacteria in your mouth turn into bad bacteria, and that's when it starts doing damage. X-rays would then be done every year.

Are there any particular oral health issues seen in the senior population more so than in other populations?

Most elderly people take medications, which can dry out the mouth, and having a dry mouth can mean you’re more likely to get cavities. Saliva helps clean the debris and also helps to buffer the acidity and the bacteria in the mouth.

Another thing we see is poor oral hygiene due to medical conditions, especially Parkinson’s and things like that, because it's harder for them to brush. We have to accommodate that and teach them how to maintain oral hygiene, which may mean using a different type of toothbrush.

What can seniors do at home to ensure good oral hygiene?

Brush at least twice a day, using a soft brush and not putting too much pressure on the bristles. Electric toothbrushes make it much easier to remove debris and do a better cleaning overall.

Next, be sure to floss, and then use a fluoride antiseptic rinse that does not contain alcohol, which can make your dry mouth even worse. After rinsing, do not eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes so it has time to repair enamel and kill bacteria.

Are there any oral care products specifically designed for the elderly population?

There are dry-mouth kinds of toothpaste, and for patients who have a lot of cavities, we can give them a prescription. If they cannot grasp a toothbrush well, the main thing is to make the handle of the brush as big as they can so they can grab it. I tell patients to put tape around it, so they have a better grasp.

If they can’t floss with regular floss, they should use flossers that can be placed more easily between the teeth. Interdental brushes are brushes that look like Christmas trees. Don't push them in; just let them flow in, and if they don't fit, don't force them.

How can oral health issues affect the rest of our bodies?

Many studies have shown that poor oral health and Alzheimer’s disease are connected. Another big study found an increase in heart disease from poor oral hygiene because plaque in the mouth accumulates into the bloodstream. Diabetes will also affect your gums, which will continue to affect your diabetes.

What are some solutions for those who may have waited too long to have their natural teeth repaired?

The first is called an implant bridge, which is putting in multiple implants and then connecting them, so it doesn't come out. It also maintains the bone. The next one in line would be an implant-retained denture removed at night. The last one is just a regular removable denture that patients use an adhesive to keep in. These can be very uncomfortable and are not great for chewing food well.

In addition to gum and tooth health, what other issues do dentists and hygienists screen for when examining our mouths?

We do oral cancer screenings. In the U.S., about 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year, and about 9,700 of those die. We also check the bone and the jaw. If you can't chew well, then you can develop digestive issues. We also do head and neck checks, and another main thing we do, especially in my office, is take every patient’s blood pressure.

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“Go to a dentist who will spend time with you and get to know you, and not only care about your mouth but your overall health. Find one who understands the connection between the two.”

“Go to a dentist who will spend time with you and get to know you, and not only care about your mouth but your overall health. Find one who understands the connection between the two.”