There are a number of wonderful and not-so-wonderful changes that come with aging. In order to maximize your quality of life and protect yourself from the not-so-wonderful changes you must be proactive. One way you can do that is by taking care of your physical and oral health. Visiting your doctor and dentist at the recommended frequency and following their advice can prolong your life and improve your quality of life. In general, people visit the doctor more often as they age because their needs increase. Is the same true for the dentist? How often should older adults be visiting the dentist and what factors impact that frequency?
Twice yearly for routine checkups
The minimum number of dental visits older adults should schedule each year are the same as everyone else-at least once every six months. This level of frequency allows for tartar removal and cleaning to prevent issues like gum disease and decay. In addition, routine visits like this also provide the dentist with the opportunity to catch potential issues before they cause serious problems. For example, tooth decay, when caught early, generally involves a small filling. But if the decay continues to progress unencumbered it can lead to an infection in the root and require a root canal-which is much more serious and invasive than a filling. The dentist can also keep an eye out for other issues that can become problematic for older adults such as bone loss, receding gums, as well as disease and medication related oral problems.
Increased frequency to monitor additional needs
With age many people experience an increased number of oral and dental issues. There are several reasons for this. Some health issues that are common for older adults-such as diabetes and osteoporosis-can cause or lead to oral problems. Medications designed to treat other health related problems can also lead to teeth and oral issues. For example, many types of medication can lead to dry mouth which in turn can cause serious oral health problems over time. If you or a loved one has any of the risk factors mentioned here then more frequent dental visits may be necessary. Talk to both your dentist and your doctor about how your overall health may be impacting your oral health. And, carefully read about the potential side effects of the medications you take. If oral issues are a potential side effect be sure and mention that possibility to your dentist and get a recommendation on how frequently to schedule your visits.
Hearing that you may need to visit the dentist more frequently as you age may be frustrating. But, if you neglect your oral health-especially when you have increased risk factors like disease and medication-you will quickly find yourself in need of significant dental work. Talk to your dentist about your overall health and medications to get a customized recommendation on how often you should be scheduling appointments.
Julie C Berger, DDS, MA, FACP is a local Gettysburg dentist and a board certified prosthodontist specialist. She is a former full time instructor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.