Basic oral hygiene doesn't change much as you age -- brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist regularly are still important for keeping your teeth healthy. Whether you have all of your natural teeth or wear a full set of dentures, regular dental visits allow your dentist to watch for signs of tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer and other dental problems, and take action at the first hint of trouble. Plus, taking care of your oral health protects your overall health.
It's easy to understand that regular dental visits may seem more like a luxury than a necessity, especially if you live on a fixed income. But preventive dental care is much less costly in the long run than waiting until a problem requires extensive and expensive repair work. Here are five ways to make your senior dental visit an affordable, low-stress experience you won't want to put off:
1. Don’t wait until there’s a problem to see a dentist.
Regular dental visits allow your dentist to check for problems before they become too serious. Most people should have a senior dental visit twice a year. However, those with ongoing dental concerns such as the need for gum disease treatment may need to go more often. Even if you no longer have your natural teeth, you should still see the dentist at least once a year. The dentist can check to make sure your dentures fit well and are in good condition. Your dentist will also examine your mouth, gums, cheek and tongue for signs of oral cancer, which is more common after the age of 40.
2. Seek out affordable care.
If you have dental insurance, preventive care such as dental exams and X-rays is usually covered. Ask for an estimate of costs so you'll be prepared for any out-of-pocket expenses. If you don't have insurance, dental offices will sometimes have payment plans for care or offer discounts for cash payments. And some dental offices accept or offer financing plans such as CareCredit®. Don't be afraid to ask about your options!
3. Plan ahead.
Pick a good time for your appointment, whether that's first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon, to ensure that you are feeling your most energetic and least stressed. If you have any special needs, suffer from dental anxiety or have a disability, let the staff know in advance so they can better accommodate you.
4. Keep your dentist informed.
Mention any sores, swelling or pain you might be experiencing in your mouth. Let your dentist know if you smoke, have any allergies or have any existing medical conditions. Also, tell your dentist about all the medications you take, both prescription and over-the-counter. Some can cause problems such as dry mouth; others may interact with medications your dentist may prescribe.
5. Know what to expect.
As with all regular dental visits, your senior dental visit will likely consist of the following:
X-rays -- X-rays are not required at every visit, but may be needed at some point depending on the status of your dental health. They are used to spot problems undetectable to the eye such as bone deterioration below the gum line.
Dental Exam -- The dentist will check your mouth, teeth and gums for signs of cavities, a loose tooth filling and gum disease. He or she will also look at your neck, lymph glands, cheeks, tongue and lips to check for signs of infection or oral cancer.
Treatment Plan -- Depending on what the dentist observes during the exam, he or she will recommend a dental treatment plan. Your dentist can also review proper self-care tips for brushing, flossing and caring for dentures.