If it doesn’t hurt, why fix it? That doesn’t always stand true when talking about dental health. In fact, common dental problems such as gum disease and decay don’t typically present themselves with painful symptoms at first. Waiting for dental discomfort to see a dentist often means that you’ve allowed a dental concern to fester and progress into advanced and harder-to-treat stages. When referring to senior patients, this becomes an even more important rule of thumb.
New research shows that elderly adults are less sensitive to pain in general than younger adults. In addition, the mouth changes as we age and the nerves in our teeth actually become smaller, which means that cavities or other problems can exist without the nerves signally a appropriate level of pain to the brain. Finally, a senior adult is more likely to have a chronic pain condition that may require them to take pain relievers or participate in other pain management therapies on a daily basis. This may mask other types of pain that may exist in the mouth.
A recent health article from US News further supports the recommendation to not let pain be a guide to dental treatment intervention in the aging population. Geriatric dentist Dr. Elisa Ghezzi, a past chair of the Coalition for Oral Health for the Aging, says that “waiting for patients to start complaining of pain before doing root-surface procedures isn’t a good approach for older adults in their 70s and beyond. Pain perception changes with age, and a problem that would send a 40-year-old screaming to their dentist might not register with someone who’s 75. Similarly, older patients might put off needed care, not realizing that pain is a sign of an underlying problem. But waiting until it really hurts could lead to tooth loss and costly reconstructive work.”
The best way to ensure you are not ignoring dental pain and letting a dental problem worsen is to maintain a routine checkup with your dentist every six months. While it may be harder to get to the dentist as an aging adult, it is no less important. In fact, it becomes even more important to let a dentist examine your teeth and gums and evaluate for signs of disease, decay or other damage.
Dr. Wayne Suway is known for his expertise in delivering first-class dental care to senior adults. He understands the unique changes that seniors face, in the mouth and in life, and he tailors a treatment plan accordingly.