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Seniors Have Their Own Unique Dental Health Issues

Dr. John A. Ferullo, a dentist who practices in downtown St. Petersburg, says certain dental problems are more prevalent in older adults.

For more than 20 years, local dentist John A. Ferullo, D.D.S., M.S. has maintained a dental practice in downtown St. Petersburg, in the former Bank of America Tower Building. 

Although he provides general care to all ages, approximately half of all his patients are seniors, ranging in age from early 50s to 90s.  However, he has had at least one patient who, at the age of 100, was still coming to him regularly for dental work before she passed away. 

With such a long history of providing dental care specifically to numerous local seniors in his practice, what kinds of oral health issues does he see? What kind of advice does he have for seniors?  Here are a few facts he recently shared.

One of the most immediate and prevalent oral problems that comes to mind for Ferullo is “periodontal/gum disease.”  This disease commonly occurs during the advance stages of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). 

While the origin of the disease is infection of the gums, it can spread to teeth and bones.  Common treatment involves cleaning of the gums, known as  “scaling and root planning."

“This type of periodontal therapy in many cases can stop the need for painful and costly scalpel surgery," he said.  "As adjuncts to treatment, university-tested mouthwash, toothpaste and pharmaceutical supplements have proven to be key elements in determining long term oral health.”

To help prevent gum disease his practice, like other dentists in the profession, “will design a personalized program of oral home care to meet your needs. 

"We realize that most patients do not floss daily, so a proven and more effective user-friendly program will be customized for you to follow.” 

This program, he said, “along with a thorough dental cleaning and an exam at three to six month intervals, as determined by your dentist, will eliminate the possibility of periodontal disease affecting your overall health.”

An equally common dental problem for older adults is dry mouth – a condition that can be harmful to one’s teeth and mouth in many ways, one of the most notable being a greater chance of developing cavities at the root area of your teeth. 

The driving force behind dry mouth is prescriptions and over-the-counter medications taken by seniors, said Ferullo. 

To find out if a particular medication you are taking or plan to take can have the side effect of dry mouth, there are numerous websites online that list specific drugs.  One of these is Dentistry.com.

This national website has been designed to help consumers searching for a dentist and offers detailed information on good dental care. As you will find on this site and others, the list of dry-mouth-related medications is long. 

In fact, if you are taking a prescription drug it is likely that dry mouth is a common side effect. Some of the most common drugs creating dry mouth are those prescribed for high blood pressure and depression. 

How do you fight dry mouth?  Here are several tactics Ferullo recommends:

• Increase your fluid intake, and rinse your mouth frequently with water.

• Use specially-formulated toothpastes, chewing gum and non-alcohol-based mouthwashes.

• Apply a lip moisturizer frequently.

• Suck on a tart or sugarless hard candy -- especially lemon-favored, since they tend to stimulate the saliva glands more readily.

• Avoid dry, salty foods.

Finally, and certainly no surprise, a third prevalent dental problem for seniors is a diagnosis of oral cancer.  The obvious causes for this disease are the use of tobacco products and/or alcohol consumption over many years, although heredity can be a factor. 

While no one can do much about their genetic makeup, Ferullo says, “If you stop smoking and minimize your alcohol intake this can go along way in preventing oral cancer.”

Given these facts, the obvious question now is: Have you been to your dentist lately? 

Adam Gerard May 03, 2011 at 11:28 AM
Another large cause of dry mouth, especially in senior women, may be Sjogren's syndrome. It is a debilitating autoimmune disease that causes a lack of moisture in the body. Though Sjogren's is systemic, the hallmark symptoms are severe dry eyes and mouth. As you note, the lack of saliva (or low quality of saliva) can cause major oral issues. Most Sjogren's patients are visiting their dentist more frequently than every 6 months, they are brushing and flossing and using numerous over-the-counter and prescription dry mouth products, and still facing major dental deterioration: http://www.sjogrens.org/home/about-sjogrens-syndrome/symptoms/dry-mouth And, unfortunately, the disease often goes undiagnosed for many years even though it strikes an estimated 4 million people in the United States alone.
diana hartman May 03, 2011 at 02:33 PM
My advice would be for people to get a Sonicare toothbrush. I have used various Sonicare models for over 15 years with excellent results. My dentist was amazed how my periodontal gum disease vanished after I started using Sonicare. My gums felt so good that I brushed for 30 minutes when I got my first Sonicare. I bought mine at Costco as the store sometimes has an instant rebate or a $25 off coupon in their coupon booklet. It is expensive-- but well worth it. My current model has 3 speeds...although I mainly use the highest speed. It came with 2 handles and 3 brush heads. I keep one toothbrush in the house, and the other in my car-- and swap them out when the battery runs low in the one in my car. I also keep an empty soda can in the car as well as toothpaste. My other suggestion for healthy teeth is to use a straw when drinking soda so that the acid doesn't get on your teeth. I also drink diet soda because anything with sugar in it will mix with your saliva to form acids that will immediately start to corrode your teeth and form cavities. I always brush my teeth after eating, and I floss my teeth at least once a day.
Diz May 15, 2011 at 02:09 AM
Dr Johns Xylitol candy and other products help. If you go to www.drjohns.com and put in the coupon code AADP they will give you 7.5% off any order.

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