According to recent studies, denture treatment is becoming more difficult for older adults due to the following reasons:
- Flattening of the alveolar ridge
- Thinning of the mucous membrane
- Reduced keratinization
- Lowered pain threshold
- Reduced amount of saliva (due to medication) and tongue pressure
Experts believe there will be a rise in both the number of cases that are difficult to treat (intractable cases) and the number of cases requiring implant treatments.
Indeed, dental implants have undeniable benefits in treating tooth loss among seniors. Aside from being an effective and reliable solution, dental implants for seniors are a sustainable tooth replacement alternative that can last a lifetime.
However, there are limitations or restrictions in using dental implants for older adults, specifically in patients with worsening health conditions.
Therefore, deciding to receive a single or an all-on-four dental implant requires bringing your senior family member to a dental expert for a thorough assessment.
Nonetheless, this guide offers you a quick overview of the benefits of dental implants and a few considerations you should know.
What are dental implants?
A dental implant is a screw-like artificial tooth root inserted into one's jawbone, acting as a sturdy base to support an artificial tooth or a dental crown. An abutment and screw are then placed on top of an implant the patient’s gum tissues heal to secure the crown.
To qualify for a dental implant procedure, patients must have sufficient bone density, good overall health, and healthy gums.
There are different types of dental implants:
Completing a dental implant procedure from surgery to recovery may take two to six months. For instance, the first stage of your implant procedure includes scheduling a consultation with an implant specialist. During this phase, your dentist will evaluate your teeth, gums, and jawbone to determine whether you have sufficient bone density to maintain an implant.
If your dentist discovers you have a thin or soft jawbone, a bone graft may be recommended before the implant procedure begins. While bone grafting typically lasts between two to ninety minutes, recovery can take up to two weeks.
While age itself is not a determining factor in the duration of dental implant treatment, older patients may require additional evaluation time, preparatory procedures, and possibly longer osseointegration process (the period where the implant fuses with the surrounding bone)
The question is, are dental implants safe for seniors?
Benefits of Dental Implants to Seniors
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 20% of individuals aged 65 and above experience total tooth loss, with the prevalence doubling among those aged 75 and older to 26%, compared to 13% among those aged 65-74. This dental issue can impact dietary habits, as people with missing teeth or dentures tend to opt for softer, easily chewable foods over fresh fruits and vegetables.
Growing evidence suggests that changes in dietary behavior consequent to tooth loss can lead to insufficient nutrition intake.
Based on a recent systematic review, patients lacking a functional dentition had a 21% increased likelihood of being at risk of malnutrition. In the long run, such weakened nutrition may impact muscle strength and physical health.
On the other hand, the Global Burden of Disease study of dietary risk factors shows that five health-associated exposures, namely, consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fiber, require a good level of chewing.
In this regard, researchers have been exploring how replacing missing teeth can improve nutrition. They've tried various dentures, like complete dentures and implant-retained overdentures, to help people without teeth eat better. But unfortunately, these haven't always been entirely successful.
There are two reasons for this: limitations in how well the dentures work and the need for dietary changes in the treatment plan. However, there's a promising new approach! A small study showed that fixed prostheses supported by implants helped people with some missing teeth chew better and absorb more nutrients compared to traditional removable dentures.
The facts presented suggest that dental implants could benefit seniors with missing teeth, improving their nutritional intake and overall health compared to traditional dentures. With a considerable portion of individuals aged 65 and above experiencing total tooth loss and the prevalence increasing with age, there is a clear need to address the impact of this issue on dietary habits.
Traditional dentures may not provide the best solution for seniors who require an optimal chewing function so that dental implants can be a sustainable alternative. Not only do implants restore one's ability to chew food correctly, but they also keep the jawbone from shrinking due to bone loss, thus preserving the health of the surrounding teeth and gum.
On Dental Implant’s Safety in the Elderly
Aging is often associated with specific health challenges. As people age, the more they become more wary of invasive procedures. Considering a highly invasive dental implant procedure, seniors might feel it’s unsafe. The good news is that dental implants are considered safe for seniors regardless of their invasive nature. Studies suggest implants can be successfully placed in patients aged 65 and over.
A research team conducted a systematic review to evaluate the outcome of dental implant therapy in elderly patients. Based on their study, age should not be the sole factor limiting access to dental implant therapy.
Their model further revealed an overall implant survival of 96.3%. Implant-related technical or mechanical issues included loosening of abutment screws, overdenture prosthesis fractures, activation of retentive clips, ceramic chipping, and fractures.
This study brings reassuring news for seniors considering dental implants. It shows that age shouldn't stop older adults from getting this treatment—it's also safe and effective for them. The researchers want us to remember that seniors deserve the same chance at dental implants as anyone else.
It is, however, essential to remember that factors also restrict implant treatments in seniors based on the actual states of implants. And that’s what we will discuss in the next section.
Essential Considerations When Placing Implants for Seniors
A recent study in Japan implies that the patient’s worsening overall health conditions can present risks for implant placement.
It's essential to consider systemic health conditions and age-related changes in the mouth when evaluating the potential risks associated with implant surgery. Some health conditions that need extra care include heart problems, diabetes, weak bones, cancer, joint diseases, and poor nutrition.
In other words, dentists need to examine the overall health conditions affecting the entire body (systemic health conditions) and the natural changes that occur in the mouth as a person ages (age-related changes). These factors can impact the success and potential risks associated with implant surgery. Such diseases, or the side effects of medications used, can impact implant surgery, healing of wounds, bone mending, and ongoing implant care.
Other systematic conditions among seniors that may affect implant surgery include:
- Worsening periodontal conditions
- Dry mouth
- Parkinson’s disease
- Rheumatic disease
In this regard, experts suggest that dentists and guardians nursing elderly patients requiring implants observe the following:
For patients with worsening systematic conditions
Before implant surgery, it's essential to consider various techniques like three-dimensional cone-beam computed tomography, flapless surgery, single-stage surgery, immediate implant placement and loading, and the use of short and thin implants. These methods can help plan a less invasive surgery.
For patients with deteriorating cognitive functions
A thorough assessment of cognitive function is essential in ensuring comprehensive care and treatment planning, particularly in cases where cognitive abilities may impact decision-making processes and treatment outcomes. Dentists play a crucial role in conducting these assessments and tailoring treatment plans accordingly.
While dental implants can significantly improve the quality of life for older adults, this study serves as a crucial reminder: patient health paints a more complex picture than age alone. By meticulously evaluating both systemic health conditions and age-related oral changes (bone density, periodontal health), dentists can make informed decisions about the feasibility and potential risks of implant surgery for each individual.
The good news? Minimally invasive techniques like flapless surgery and shorter implants offer a silver lining. Collaboration between dentists, guardians, and other healthcare professionals can also ensure optimal care and successful outcomes for elderly patients.
Entrust Your Elderly Loved Ones to Us
When it comes to older patients' oral health, we need to do more than just the basics. We should offer them plenty of support and care. Tooth loss reduces chewing capability and quality, and periodontal disease shouldn’t impede seniors from living normally.
That's why we at Upland Dental Practice recommend not just a mediocre solution—we want the best for your loved ones. You can trust us to be your lifetime partners for dental implants or other dental treatments that will benefit your senior family members.
Visit us at 3909 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City, CA. Call us at (310) 390-6000 for free consultation.