The world’s older population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. Today, 8.5 percent of people worldwide (617 million) are aged 65 and over. With the joys of aging come the development chronic conditions that need to be monitored, including oral health. It doesn’t take in-depth research to realize that dental care is often ignored in nursing homes and senior living homes.
Senior Oral Health – The Silent Epidemic
In the elderly, the most common oral diseases are periodontal disease and dental caries; oral lesions and xerostomia are also very common oral conditions among the elderly. Since there is a common lack of oral hygiene in senior living centers, these conditions are accelerated, leaving our senior population susceptible to pain and inevitably tooth loss.
More distressing is the correlation research has found between oral bacteria and aspiration pneumonia. One study found that 1 in 10 deaths from pneumonia in elderly nursing home residents may be prevented by improving oral hygiene. The study also recommended tooth brushing after each meal, cleaning removable prostheses once a day, and professional oral health care once a week to reduce the incidence of aspiration pneumonia.
Nursing home workers are expected to help residents bathe, they are also supposed to brush the teeth of people who can’t do it themselves. It’s so important that it was federally mandated in a historic national nursing home reform bill passed in 1987.
Still, most resident’s teeth aren’t being brushed.
The TeleDentists – A New Solution
In order to combat this silent epidemic, modern telehealth services like The TeleDentists® can now use teledentistry to monitor toothbrushing, and to provide relief to xerostomia and other oral health conditions.
Teledentistry has proven successful for diagnosing dental pathologies and good accuracy for assessing the rehabilitation of dental prostheses and chewing ability among elderly nursing home residents.
The TeleDentists offers “the first of its kind” virtual dental service. Its national network of licensed dentists utilizes a variety of virtual tools (smart phones, tablets, laptops) to assist in diagnosing, remediate and, when needed, arrange local dental appointments the next business day.
It also offers an education program and monitored toothbrushing program that are built around the gaps in senior living staff training and provides a system to ensure twice a day brushing.
Teledentistry Benefits for Senior Living
In senior living centers, for example, if a patient is complaining of dental pain, they can have a virtual dental consult with The TeleDentists, without leaving their home. The dentist can then prescribe medication if necessary, to help palliate the patient, and find an appointment for them at a convenient location near them. This prevents multiple trips to doctors’ offices, which can be very taxing on the elderly and their caretakers. It also reduces costs by limiting the number of visits to the professionals’ office.
What Is Xerostomia?
Xerostomia (dry mouth) in seniors is one of the most common dental condition that presents in routine dental examinations. There are over 50 million patients in the United States that experience dry mouth with 17 and 29% being older adults. Xerostomia often occurs with other oral conditions such as idiopathic dysesthesia (stomatalgia or “burning mouth syndrome”), parageusia, dysphagia, halitosis, caries, and periodontal disease. There are over 1,100 medications that can cause dry mouth as well as many diseases that cause patients to develop dry mouth, like diabetes and hypertension. The development of dry mouth in these patients can cause serious complications in the oral cavity.
Treating Xerostomia in Seniors
In order to combat the combining factors of an aging population and a disease that targets this age group, The TeleDentists and SalivaMAX have partnered. SalivaMAX is an FDA-approved medication that is used to treat dry mouth and throat. The TeleDentists’ ability to expand dental access to senior living centers gives these patients the chance to discuss their dry mouth with a dental provider. The dentist can then provide the patient with a prescription for SalivaMAX. This partnership works not only treat a condition, but to extend dental care to a population who needs it most.
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