Taking good care of your mouth and teeth is not just a requirement of those in the earlier stages of life. In fact, dental health is very important to the overall wellbeing of an elderly person, and just as easily forgotten about with the multitude of other medical appointments that this area of the population attends. Throw in the fact that many in this demographic suffer from dental phobia and you have a recipe for disaster. It is believed that 75% of Americans suffer from some version of dental fear, an anxiety stemming from visiting their dentist. The fear is often a result of a bad experience at the dentist themselves or hearing of situation from the media or their friends. What’s a caregiver to do? Here’s a guide for caregivers to help the seniors they love keep their mouth healthy and clean.

Therapies – Dental phobia can be treated just like any other anxiety issue. There are chemical and natural ways to limit the direction of the fear and how much it affects the patient. For example, people who suffer greatly can visit a therapist to discuss the situation and how to handle dental procedures without stress and fear. Talk therapy is often a good option for those willing to put in the time and effort to figuring out the root of the problem; however, it’s not as easy for seniors to delve into those underlying issues. It’s also well documented that learning basic relaxation techniques, such as rhythmic breathing, can help relieve these anxieties.

Find the Best Match – It might sound simple, but not every dentist is created equal and finding the right match for your loved one will make going to their office so much easier. Every dentist has a specialty and some might be better fitted for your elderly relative than those focused on children. Using online tools to search for dentists, or even word of mouth will help you find the right match for who should take care of your teeth, especially for your older relatives touching base with friends from a local church, senior center or their friends. It’s important to have someone that you not only trust but is an expert in their field as they will be able to best cater to your needs.

Regular Dental Visits: With all the day-to-day physician appointments that come with senior care, it’s often easy to forget about making time to go to the dentist, especially at this stage in life as many people are dealing with some sort of dentures. The more you go to the dentist, the more familiar your senior family member will feel with them, and their office. If you go for cleanings as well as more in-depth procedures, it’s less likely they will have any anxiety associated with the dentist. The medical professionals will also be able to work with you, as a caregiver, and provide tips that will help keep your family member’s teeth clean. Even if your family member only has dentures, and no real teeth, it is still important to visit the dentist. Dentures require similar checkups and are not a free pass to skip the dentist. The healthier you can keep their mouth outside of the dentist office, the less hassle and pain in the office, the reduced amounts of dental anxiety.

Sedation Dentistry – For people with a little bit more stress, there is always the option of sedation dentistry. This is a great option for those seniors who get so anxious in the dentist offices that they either start physically breaking down or have a bad gag reflex. In these situations, the physician will perform the entire procedure or cleaning while the patient is under anesthesia. Dentists often use nitrous oxide which is inhaled through a mask over the nose and mouth. Sedation dentistry is often used with many other therapeutic techniques in order to address the basis for the fear. While the use of anesthesia in seniors is often debated and often discouraged, it is very crucial to work with your dentist when considering sedation dentistry as well as making sure your dentist is aware of any medications the senior patient may be taking.

By Shoshana Davis


  • Guest Post by Shoshana Davis, who is a freelance contributor to TopDentists.com, a online dental resource site that is part of the Everyday Health portfolio.