Treating an elderly dental patient
A patient is treated at the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center. Courtesy of the center

The stats are alarming: Nearly 1 in 5 seniors over the age of 65 have no teeth, 2 in 3 have gum disease, and 1 in 5 have untreated cavities. Dental health is a hidden health crisis for seniors in our community which has far-reaching impacts on their overall wellness.

Studies have shown there is also a significant link between poor oral health and diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory infections, malnutrition, and even social isolation. Lack of access to basic oral care can cause seniors to neglect their teeth, and Medicare does not currently cover dental care. Additionally, most older adults take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, many of which can cause dry mouth which can increase the risk of cavities.

At the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, we are dedicated to providing affordable, high-quality oral healthcare with comprehensive education, clinical and wellness services for seniors, enabling them to live healthy and productive lives.

To bring awareness to the importance of dental care for seniors, here are five ways for seniors to keep their dental health in check:

1. Brush and floss daily — Many people brush regularly, but simply don’t brush enough for their teeth to stay clean. The ADA recommends brushing for at least two minutes, twice daily. Likewise, flossing needs to be done regularly. If you are having trouble with dexterity, consider putting a tennis ball on the end of a toothbrush or investing in an electric toothbrush or a water flosser to help with grip.

2. Visit your dentist regularly —Like scheduling regular checkups with your primary-care physician, going to the dentist is the single best thing you can do for your oral health. Need assistance with getting to the dentist? Ask a family member or friend to take you or look into a ride service like Lyft, Uber or On The Go.

3. Refrain from tobacco and alcohol — Smoking is a major cause of gum disease and mouth cancer, as is alcohol consumption. They can also lead to stained teeth and a myriad of other health problems.

4. Eat and drink right — Many common foods and snacks are loaded with sugar. Eating foods with high levels of sugar can cause tooth decay. Nutritious foods are important for good general health and oral health. When available, drink fluoridated water or use fluoridated toothpaste.

5. When you have pain, go to your dentist — Pain perception changes with age and putting off needed care could lead to tooth loss and costly reconstructive work.

To meet our local seniors’ unique oral healthcare needs, the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center recently opened its first geriatric dental center in North County, welcoming seniors 55 and older. The 1,300-square-foot dental center, located at 1706 Descanso Ave., Suite A, in San Marcos and collocated with the recently opened Gary and Mary West PACE, will offer person-centered and age-specific comprehensive oral healthcare services from an experienced oral health team that specializes in geriatric dental services. The state-of-the-art facility will have four senior-friendly treatment rooms and includes a wheelchair-accessible dental platform, allowing patients to remain in their wheelchairs during treatment without the need of being transferred to a chair.

Another benefit of receiving care at the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center of North County is knowing that you will help other seniors in need. The new dental center is a nonprofit, social enterprise and patients who receive services at the North County location are helping to support the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center’s Downtown San Diego location where very low-income seniors receive dental care.

Your mouth is the gateway to your overall health, so making your dental health a priority is one of the keys to aging successfully.

Dr. Karen Becerra, DDS, MPH, is the CEO and dental director of the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center. The nonprofit West Senior Dental Center, through its innovative care model, offers high-quality, affordable oral healthcare with comprehensive education, health and wellness service. The West Senior Dental Center was established by the nonprofit Gary and Mary West Foundation whose founders are philanthropists Gary and Mary West.