Brushing Up on Dental Health for LGBT Elders

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LGBT Health Resource Center

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Dental care isn’t just about keeping your teeth sparking and healthy—oral hygiene can have a major impact on an elder’s overall health and quality of life.

You can brush up on these topics and much more at the next Lunch and Learn event, hosted by the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care on Thursday, August 8 from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the community rooms at Chase Brexton’s Mt. Vernon Center, 1111 N. Charles St. in Baltimore. 

The program will be presented by Karyn Carr Porter RDH BS, Supervisor of Dental Hygiene for Chase Brexton Health Care. We asked Karyn how oral health can affect older adults.

What happens to our teeth as we get older?

Like everything else in our bodies, our teeth age as we age. Our teeth need just as much care as we get older, sometimes even more so. Tooth enamel can start to weaken over time, causing your risk to develop cavities to increase. Also, the bone and gum tissue that supports your teeth can start to recede, causing your teeth to become mobile, increasing both tooth sensitivity and cavity risk. The more compromised your teeth become, the more likely you are to start losing your teeth either by bone loss or tooth decay. Many aging adults may end up with broken down or extracted teeth, which can lead to a change in how you eat, how you feel about yourself, and your overall health. Proper dental home care and regular professional dental visits are the key to keeping your teeth healthy throughout your lifespan.

What factors can impact an older adult’s dental health?

Many factors can impact the older adult’s dental health, these are the three biggest issues:

Dry Mouth: Many older adults are on multiple medications through their lives. Hundreds of medications have xerostomia (dry mouth) listed as a side effect, but dry mouth also can occur in the absence of medications as well. One of the effects of aging is that everything can start to dry up, including your mouth. The less saliva you create, the more at risk your teeth are to developing cavities. Many over-the-counter products are available to help relieve this symptom.

Home care: Your ability to clean your teeth at home will definitely impact your dental health. If you have limited mobility or function of your arms/hands/fingers due to pain or loss of function because of occurrences like a stroke, you may not be able to properly and thoroughly brush and floss your teeth. Leaving food and plaque to build up in your mouth will increase your risk of developing cavities and could lead to tooth loss from periodontal disease (bone loss).

Access to Care: you can’t keep your teeth healthy on your own! You need to have a dental home where you can have access to professional dental care such as routine dental cleanings with a dental hygienist, yearly X-rays to check for cavities, and dental examination and treatment with the dentist to fix any cavities before they become too large. Oral education is key to successful home care! You will need to work together to make sure you are doing everything you can for your teeth. Some aging adults will find it challenging to find a dental home due to lack of insurance, high costs, transportation, fear/anxiety, or a lack of dental offices willing to accept state insurances or adult Medicaid or Medicare programs.

What particular challenges do LGBT elders face?

I think the number one challenge LGBT elders may face when trying to achieve oral health success is a lack of access to care. I think there may still be a large number of dental providers with an aversion to providing treatment to our LGBT communities.

How can dental health impact an older adult’s quality of life?

Poor oral health can lead to poor nutrition, weight loss, pain, depression, low self-esteem and a decrease in social lives. If you aren’t happy with your teeth, it really reflects in your day-to-day life. Quality of life can be reduced, which can lead to other health issues. The risk for heart attack and stroke is increased, as well as the inability to control diabetes. Your overall health can be affected by the amount of bad bacteria in your mouth.

To register for the upcoming Lunch & Learn Session, RSVP to lgbt@chasebrexton.org or call 410-837-2050 extension 1049. For more on the LGBT Health Resource Center’s older adult programming, visit www.ChaseBrexton.org/LGBTelders.