Over 10,000 people retire in the United States every day, and with the loss of employment, often comes the loss of dental benefits. But dentists say maintaining good oral health in retirement can be every bit as critical as taking care of any other part of the body. And it doesn’t have to be expensive.
“Dental coverage, even basic care, is not and never will be provided under Medicare or the Affordable care act, and supplemental private policies are very expensive,” said Dr. Steve Mascarin. “The result is, over 70% of retiring baby boomers have no dental insurance. This is significant because that mass of boomers is highly unlikely to return for the vital regular six-month cleaning visit.”
Mascarin is a doctor of dental surgery. He has been in practice for 26 years. Educated at the University of Western Ontario, he is the founder of Taunton Village Dental in Ontario, Canada.
He is a diplomat of the International Congress of Oral Implantology (ICOI) and a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD).
Because people are living so much longer today than in just the most recent generation—in some cases three decades or more—Mascarin said a great deal of his practice is dedicated to educating older adults on how to take care of their teeth as they age. “I am very passionate about educating our aging baby boomers on how to maximize their health, lifestyle, and confidence as long as possible. An extra 30 years has been added to our life expectancy in less than a century. We are now living, on average, an extra 34 years than our grandparents; an entire second adult lifetime. My goal and the goal of all health care providers should be to make this extra 30 years of adult lifetime confident, youthful, exciting, fun, and healthy.”
Failing to protect oral health can lead to poor overall health, Mascarin said. “The inability to chew leads to malnutrition, warped speech, pain, social isolation due to embarrassment, and is a contributing factor to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, erectile dysfunction and Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “The most important cost effective habits that boomers must continue into retirement are regular home care, 3-6 month professional cleanings and annual check-ups from a dentist.”
Mascarin said that older adults represent at least a third of the dentist’s patient population. “And they should know that many dentists are aggressively courting them with special offers and discounts for regular maintenance, cleanings, whitening, implants etc.” He encourages seniors to look for these dentists.
Continuing good oral health should begin as soon as retirement does because that is when teeth are in the best condition. “Most baby boomers have received regular dental care for most of their lives and thus go into retirement with most or all their own teeth. But many lose their dental benefits when they retire and unfortunately stop their regular cleaning and maintenance appointments. This is a huge mistake. Three to six-month cleanings are necessary not only to prevent major problems but to identify and treat potential problems in the early stages to avoid the need for implants, root canal or oral surgery. Who wouldn’t rather have an easy small filling than one of the big league treatments?”
Skipping regular cleanings can also have a huge impact on overall health when periodontal disease and gum infection worsens. “This occurs in 80% of the population. Bacteria, which is always present in every human’s mouth, are given the chance to fester and grow below the gum line where home brushing and flossing don’t reach. Incidentally, this is what your dental hygienist cleans at your cleaning appointment where you can’t reach. The infection slowly grows, eating away supporting bone, causing severe bad breath and most notably, significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. And now we are finding links with Alzheimer’s disease. Thousands of studies are proving that gum infections are a contributing factor to heart disease, stroke, adult onset diabetes and erectile dysfunction.”
Mascarin said 40% of digestion happens in the mouth from chewing. “How can you do that if your teeth are not functioning?”
In her July 2013 article for Medical News Today, Honor Whiteman described a study by researchers from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in the UK who found that people with poor oral hygiene or gum disease could be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared with those who have healthy teeth. The researchers discovered the presence of a bacterium called Porphyromonas gingivitis in the brains of patients who had dementia when they were alive. This bug, they wrote in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, where the study was published, is usually associated with chronic periodontal (gum) disease.
The university’s study adds to previous findings by New York University in 2010 that linked poor oral health to Alzheimer’s disease. Those researchers asserted that gum disease could increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction.
Prof. StJohn Crean, executive dean of the College of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences and the School of Medical Dentistry at UCLan, was quoted by Whiteman on this most recent research: “Whereas previous studies have indicated a link between dementia and other bacteria and viruses such as the Herpes simplex virus type 1, this new research indicates a possible association between gum disease and individuals who may be susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease, if exposed to the appropriate trigger. Research currently under way at UCLan is playing an active role in exploring this link, but it remains to be proven whether poor dental hygiene can lead to dementia in healthy people, which obviously could have significant implications for the population as a whole. It is also likely that these bacteria could make the existing disease condition worse.”
The Alzheimer’s Society holds that the two main types of dental disease—gum (periodontal) disease and tooth decay (commonly known as cavities)—can cause pain and infection, thus worsening the confusion associated with dementia.
Mascarin said technology has increased the potential for good oral health in the long term, even when individuals have not been persistent in their dental care. “For the baby boomers that have been away from a dentist or procrastinating and now have several teeth missing with the possibility of losing several more, there are several easy options to restore the full set of functioning teeth and restore the beauty, aesthetics, youthfulness and confidence that we all long for. These options can give immediate results and you will never be without teeth. Many options are very affordable and all restore natural youthful beauty.”
Mascarin said he remembers making replacement teeth in dental school in yellow or brownish-grey shades because either that’s what the person already had or it was what looked the most natural for an older person. “But now everyone wants to look as good as they feel. Our health is so much better. We have better drugs, better knowledge, and better food. People are more confident that they are going to live longer now. The general population is pretty confident that they are going to live to 80 or 90 or even 100, and they’re going to be good years,” he said. “They want to look as young as they feel.”
Dentistry has come a long way since America’s first commander in chief ostensibly sported a set of wooden teeth. And even that myth has been debunked. According to Smithsonian.com, Washington’s dentures were in reality made from lead, human teeth, cow teeth and elephant ivory.
Dentures in the 21st century are usually made from various types of acrylic resin or porcelain. And implants or posts surgically placed to the upper or lower jaw to anchor a replacement tooth, several teeth or a full set of dentures, are made of titanium and other materials that are easily accepted by the human body.
These newer materials wear more like natural teeth and are more translucent, as opposed to ceramic or cheaper acrylic, Mascarin said. “As little as two implants can anchor full set of lower removable teeth,” he said, “And is becoming more cost effective every year at $3,000 to $5,000.” For those who can afford them, Mascarin said that a full set of permanent implant retained teeth can be provided in a day for $20,000 to $30,000.
Mascarin provided some tips for older adults looking to up their oral hygiene routine:
- Look for a dentist who caters to baby boomers. Many offer discounts on cleanings or time of day discounts. “Dentists are least busy mid-day when retirees are free and will offer discounts at those times,” Mascarin said at his office he offers all individuals over 60 a 10% discount, $99 flat price for all regular cleanings and an extra 10% off of mid-day appointments,
- Many dentists will offer warranties on all work if the patient returns for regular cleanings.
- For all aging teeth and dental work, home care is enhanced significantly with an ultrasonic toothbrush.
Some interesting facts about the history of dentistry around the world:
Though a Sumerian text of 5000 BC, describes “tooth worms” as the cause of dental decay, Hesy-Re, who lived around 2600 BC, is often called the first dentist. The Egyptian scribe was eulogized on his tomb with the inscription “the greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians.” According to the American Dental Association, this is the earliest known reference to a person identified as a dental practitioner.
A Roman medical writer, Celsus, wrote extensively in his compendium of medicine on oral hygiene, stabilization of loose teeth and treatments for a toothache, teething pain and jaw fractures. And between 166 and 201 AD, the Etruscans begin to practice dental prosthetics using gold crowns and fixed bridgework.
A Guild of Barbers was established in France in 1210. Lay barbers or barber-surgeons performed routine hygienic services like shaving, bleeding, cupping, leeching and tooth extraction at the time.
Paul Revere, who had advertised himself as a dentist, verified the death of his friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, in the Battle of Breed’s Hill, in 1776, through his identification of the bridge he constructed for Warren.
And in 1789, Frenchman Nicolas Dubois de Chemant received the first patent for porcelain teeth.
Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris founded the world’s first dental school in 1840, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, and established the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. The school merged with the University of Maryland in 1923. And in 1859, 26 dentists met in Niagara Falls, New York, and formed America’s largest dental association, American Dental Association. Today the ADA represents more than 159,000 dentist members and has grown to become the leading source of oral health related information for dentists and their patients.
The Harvard University Dental School, the first university-affiliated dental institution, was founded in 1867. The school called its degree the Dentariae Medicinae Doctorae (DMD), thus creating the continuing semantic controversy (DDS vs. DMD).
The collapsible metal tube revolutionized toothpaste manufacturing and marketing in the 1880s. Before it, dentifrice had been available only in liquid or powder form, usually made by individual dentists, and sold in bottles, porcelain pots or paper boxes.
The first commercial home tooth bleaching product was marketed in 1989, and by 1990, new tooth-colored restorative materials plus increased usage of bleaching, veneers and implants inaugurated an era of esthetic dentistry.
The National Institute of Dental Research was renamed National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in 1998 to more accurately reflect the broad research base that it had come to support.
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