Geriatric Patients and Dentistry
Every person needs to brush their teeth well, at least twice a day, everyday in order to upkeep dental hygiene. It never occurred to me that you still need to brush your teeth, even when you can’t do it on your own.
I was in the back room of the clinic when Jenny, the dental assistant in charge of the back room today, was moving the chair out of the x-ray room to clear space for an elderly patient. The woman in a wheel chair, a stroke victim unable to move her body on her own, was wheeled into the clinic with her son at her side. I observed from the sides as the son maneuvered the chair into the room and explained his mother’s condition to Jenny so that she could have her X-rays taken. It was obvious that the son needed to help his mother move, but whether he was allowed to stay in the X-ray room while the X-rays were being taken was unknown. His willingness to be exposed to radiation for the sake of taking his mother’s X-rays was quite touching.
It took a while to finish the X-rays. The patient was unable to open her mouth on her own, let alone even hold her head up. Jenny and her son had trouble getting the mouth piece to stay in position as the X-rays were taken, and I noticed that while her son was holding her head, he was unable to hold her mouth in a closed position. This was when the patient’s nurse was called in. She came into the clinic and stayed in the X-ray room with the son while Jenny took picture after picture until her teeth were all photographed. It was difficult for the patient, but it seemed more troublesome for her caretakers. However, working together got the job done.
The patient was wheeled over to Dr. Kim’s dental chair where another dilemma arose: the patient’s lymphatics system was unable to drain properly, so when she laid down flat, she could possibly choke or the fluids would drain up to her lungs and possibly drown her. However, Dr. Kim happily complied as she did her best to treat her patient with utmost care. She put on her magnifying glasses, tilted the dental chair light into the patient’s mouth, and examined her teeth while the patient’s caretakers held her head steady and her mouth opened. Examination showed multiple cavities on many of her teeth and Dr. Kim proceeded to find out how the caretakers were taking care of the patient’s teeth. “Do you guys brush her teeth? What kind of brush? How many times? Do you guys floss her teeth?” The caretakers responded, and Dr. Kim listened intently and then advised them on what kinds of tooth brushes and tooth pastes to use. She also showed them a flossing needle and how to use it in order to easily floss the patient’s teeth. By the end of the Q and A, the caretakers left with knowledge of better dental care for their patient and hoped to return for a doctor’s note that allowed Dr. Kim to fill in the patient’s cavities.
At the end of their visit, I learned how every person needs dental care, no matter what age or disability they have because teeth are always going to be teeth and they stay with you until you die. There’s always a constant need for dental care. It is a sad day when you can’t take care of your own teeth anymore because they will fall out and there will be nothing left except gums. Speech may be impaired and there will be a toothless smile, and though we can give a patient dentures to replace their smile, they will no longer have the same experiences with food and speech as they did when they had real teeth.