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FIG. 1. Rate of edentulous persons per 100 population by sex and age*

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Discases of the dentition

Although many systemic diseases manifest symptoms in the oral cavity, the science and art of dentistry is mainly concerned with diseases of the dentition, foremost of which are dental caries and pyorrhea. Dental caries occurs commonly in children with the eruption of the primary molars. It continues throughout life and is the greatest cause of tooth loss up to age 35.3 Periodontal disturbances also occur early in life, mainly as gingivitis. But gingivitis in childhood and early adolescence usually is without clinical significance. With the increased deposition on teeth of calivary calculus that occurs during late adolescence and continues throughout life, the gingiva become irritated and eroded. If the calculus is not removed periodically, irreversible degenerative changes in the periodontium-gingival and bony tissues and the periodontal attachment-may occur which lead to loosening and eventual loss of the teeth.

3 Pelton, W. J., Pennell, E. H., and Druzina, A.: Tooth morbidity experience of adults. J. Amer. dent. Ass. 49 :439, 1954.

This process pyorrhea-is the greatest cause of tooth loss after the third decade of life. Most pyorrhea is produced by the physical presence of calculus. It is therefore preventable by early and periodic removal of calculus. Another form of pyorrhea, periodontosis, appears to be unrelated to calculus deposits. It is characterized by rapid dissolution of the dental alveolar bone, the cause of which is unknown, in contrast to the slow progress of calculus-induced pyorrhea. Fortunately, periodontosis is a relatively uncommon dental disease.

Many other diseases of the hard and soft tissues of the mouth, including cysts and carcinomas, affect the teeth and other oral structures. Functional conditions such as malocclusion, temperomandibular joint disturbances, and pernicious habits involving the tongue, lips, and swallowing process may require corrective dental treatment. Also, traumatic injuries and fractures of the jaws come under the purview of the dental profession.

Systemic diseases such as blood dyscrasias, diabetes, and epilepsy under DilantinR therapy commonly cause inflammation and hypertrophy of the periodontal tissues. Avitaminosis, a frequent occurrence in the aged, may be associated with cheilosis. Also, individuals suffering from vitamin deficiencies as well as those who have recently completed antibiotic therapy may be more susceptible to acute and chronic monilial infections. Localized diseases of the periodontium, such as trench mouth and dental abscesses, may produce generalized systemic infection which is characterized by fever and, if untreated, septicemia. Dental extractions or even gingival curettage-cleaning of the teeth-produce transient bacteremias which can cause subacute bacterial endocarditis in those patients with a history of heart damage due to rheumatic fever.""

While some dental diseases occur more commonly at different ages in life, few can be considered age-specific. However, physiological and functional changes occur with aging that may affect the course and the success of dental treatment. The oral mucosal lining tends to become thinner and less resilient and thereby more susceptible to pressure ulceration from artificial dentures. Salivary flow may decrease, causing dryness of the mouth which makes denture retention more difficult. The enamel of teeth may be worn off the occlusal and buccal surfaces, creating sensitivities and greater susceptibility to dental caries. The temperomandibular joint is subject to wear, especially the articulating disc. Also, decrease in vertical dimension, the distance separating the mandible from the maxilla, occurs with loss or excessive wear of teeth. The resultant change in the articulation of the mandible may be accompanied by temperomandibular joint pain and, in extreme cases, impairment of hearing. When teeth are lost, the alveolar bone forming the supporting ridges for dentures is gradually resorbed. Thus the elderly patient's jaws frequently present flat ridges that are inadequate for the stabilization of artificial dentures.

Of particular interest to physicians caring for geriatric patients is the "theory of focal infection" as it pertains to the teeth. A few decades ago it was not uncommon to have physicians and dentists recommend the removal of suspicious teeth in the hope of curing rheumatism and arthritis. But it has long since been demonstrated that asymptomatic teeth, including those that are nonvital or have been devitalized by root canal therapy, do not serve as foci of infection. Therefore, teeth should only be removed for sound dental reasons and not on the presumptive hope that cures for systemic diseases will be effected."

Prevention and treatment

The most common dental diseases of caries and pyorrhea cannot be entirely prevented. However, the incidence of dental caries can be reduced by 60% through the fluoridation of public water supplies. A further decrease can be effected by the reduction in the consumption of refined carbohydrates." Unfor

Peridontal Disease in Adults. U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, PHS Publication No. 1000 Series 11, No. 12, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1965.

5 Bhaskar. S. N.: Synopsis of Oral Pathology. St. Louis: The C. V. Mosby Co., 1961. Brandt, C. L.. Korn, N. A., and Schaffer, E. M.: Bacteremias from ultrasonic and hand instrumentation. J. Periodont. 35 :214, 1965.

7 Handbook of Dental Practice. Edited by L. I. Grossman. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1952.

8 Grossman, L. I.: Focal infection. Dent. Clin. N. Amer. Nov. 1960, p. 749. Fluoridation as a Public Health Measure. Edited by J. H. Shaw. Washington, D.C.: Amer. Ass. Advancement of Science, 1954. Also see J. Amer. dent. Ass. Vol. 71, No. 5, November 1965 for more recent papers on facts and issues in the fluoridation controversy.

10 Jay. P., Beeuwkes, A. M., and Hughey, M. J.: Dietary program for the control of dental caries. In: Lippincott's Handbook of Dental Practice. 3rd ed. Edited by L. I. Grossman. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1958.

tunately the food industry caters to the "sweet tooth" of the populace as well as playing a determining role through advertising in the development of dietary habits. Although the modern diet may be nutritionally adequate, from the dental viewpoint it is too soft to provide proper stimulation of the gingival tissues during mastication and serves as a feeding ground for the complex bacterial and chemical decay process. Nonetheless, dental caries can be effectively treated by the removal of the areas of decay and the restoration of the teeth with fillings and crowns. Teeth need seldom be lost due to this disease.

Pyorrhea is also largely preventable, as mentioned, through the semiannual or annual removal of calculus deposits on the teeth. Relatively sophisticated techniques have also been developed for the preservation of teeth that have already experienced loss of supporting alveolar bone. But as yet, there is no public health method comparable to fluoridation for the prevention of pyorrhea. Dental prophylaxis must therefore be carried on throughout the life of the individual. Some problems of dentures

Given proper periodic dental care, there is little reason for the geriatric patient to lose his teeth. Yet, in the United States perhaps only 10% of the population receives adequate care." For example, in any one year it is estimated that only 40% of the population visits the dentist at least once, most likely for the removal of teeth. Half the population by age 65 has or needs artificial dentures. But far from having solved the problem, the average denture patient has a sore mouth, dissatisfaction with his chewing capacity, and the fear that his teeth will come loose at embarrassing moments. Many elderly patients have given up chewing with their dentures and use them only for appearance in social situations. Although temporary stability may be obtained by use of denture adhesives, it is very short-lived and denture wearers find these powders and pastes literally distasteful.

It is debatable if there is such a thing as a well-fitting denture, although maxillary dentures are more easily retained and provide considerably more satisfaction than mandibular dentures. The reason is that both dentures "float" in the mouth during function, and the mouth is in constant movement even during sleep. Nevertheless, there are definite criteria for the proper fit of dentures, such as the maximum area of the base support that the tissues and musculature can tolerate, the correct centric relationship of the opposing dentures, and the proper vertical dimension. Even though these criteria are met, the success of dentures is still dependent upon the individual's adaptive capacity. Generally, the younger the patient, the more successful the adaptation. The subjective element is so great that even poorly fitting dentures can be worn successfully by some individuals, whereas many have the greatest difficulty with dentures that satisfy all known functional requirements.

As the patient ages, it is important that radical changes not be introduced by the dentist simply to satisfy the textbook criteria. This error most frequently occurs when an elderly patient decides to have a new set of dentures because the teeth are cracked or the denture base looks unattractive, although he is otherwise satisfied with the fit of his ten- or twenty-year-old plates. In these cases the patient's separation of maxilla and mandible has decreased. He has what dentists call a "closed bite." It may be the result of an original error in which the artificial teeth were too short or the alveolar ridges may have been resorbed under the dentures. Proper vertical dimension is itself an arbitrary concept which may vary as much as five millimeters without violating the principles of sound denture construction. The over-enthusiastic dentist may decide to restore the geriatric patient to a 35-year-old level of vertical dimension to improve his profile and make his teeth show more. While this procedure is most likely indicated for the 50 or 60-year-old patient, it is hazardous for the very elderly who have accommodated successfully to the gradual closing of their bites.

Ill-fitting dentures can represent hazards other than occasional sores and generalized dissatisfaction. In particular, constant irritation of the oral mucosa can produce cancerous lesions. These lesions occur most commonly along the periphery of the dentures. In the early stages they cannot be distinguished from pressure sores. However, if the ulcerations persist beyond ten days or two weeks after mechanical relief or adjustment of the denture, biopsy examination is indi

11 This is based on the fact that "only one-tenth of the population accounted for about two-thirds of all dental visits." (Blue Cross Reports. Dental expenditures, utilization, and prepayment. Sept.-Oct. 1963) But whether the consumption of the bulk of dental services really implies "adequate" care must remain moot until adequacy is defined and measured.

cated. With or without sores or dissatisfaction, most dentures require rebasing or replacement about every five years to readapt them to changes in the supporting tissues caused by alveolar resorption. It is generally believed that less alveolar resorption occurs under well-fitting dentures.

Alternate choices

For the most part, the upper dentures are easily constructed and well tolerated by patients. When there are only a few sound maxillary teeth left few dentists would hesitate to recommend a complete denture. Such is not the case for mandibular dentures. In contrast to the board, relatively immobile maxilla which provides a wide base of support for denture stability and retention, the mandible forms a narrow horseshoe shape. In addition, the peripheral mucobuccal fold of the mandible is far more active as a consequence of the greater mobility of the mandible. The lower lip, the tongue, and the sublingual musculature are in vigorous motion during speech and swallowing. The effect of these actions is to unseat the lower denture. For this reason, mandibular teeth should be maintained as long as possible to provide anchors of retention for partial dentures. Even if there are only two cuspids remaining they should be retained rather than removed for a complete lower denture. The reason for eiting the cuspids is that they tend to be least susceptible to pyorrhea by virtue of their long, strong roots, and are more likely to be present in the geriatric patient.

In this brief review of the major dental problems of the aged, mention of fixed bridges has been omitted. Certainly, fixed bridges are indicated for the replacement of natural teeth wherever possible. When too many teeth have been lost or the cost of fixed restorations is prohibitive, partial dentures should be constructed. Full dentures are a last resort, and are the consequence of oral failure."2 When the cost may run into thousands of dollars, alternative treatment plans rather than full dentures are frequently little more than exercises in fantasy. Locales of treatment-the private office and the hospital

The preceding discussion is intended to provide a broad background of common conditions that are applicable to the population at any age and to indicate that the main geriadontic problems result not from aging but from neglect. Responsibility for this neglect falls upon the public which readily accedes to its consequences. But it must be shared also by the dental profession which has in the past opposed the development of auxiliary manpower and methods of financing care to meet the needs of the population. Only within the last few years has the profession seriously addressed itself to this problem of auxiliaries, although the level of experimentation is often ludicrous in light of known accomplishments elsewhere.13 Thus, the vast majority of the population arrives at old age with the complete destruction of its natural dentition despite the fact that the dental profession has the scientific knowledge and technological ability to avoid it. A revolution in our social values is required to overcome this mutilation by


Meanwhile, there are some practical considerations that are of special concern for the dental care of the geriatric patient. Foremost of these is his state of ambulation. Dental care is most effectively performed in a well-equipped office. The responsibility of the physician is to ensure that his patients seek and receive necessary dental care, especially with regard to elimination of present and potential oral infections. The relatively well ambulatory patient is easily referred to a private dentist, provided he can afford treatment. The nonambulatory patient presents a special problem. Since many of these patients have been, will be, or are hospitalized, they should receive needed care before being discharged from the hospital. Therefore, every hospital should have completely equipped and staffed dental facilities.14 All patients should be required to have a dental examination and necessary treatment should be provided before discharge to those who are unlikely to receive it afterwards because of anticipated immobility. For the geriatric patient, the treatment most likely needed is removal of infected teeth. It would be easier and safer to perform this minor surgery in a hospital rather than to await an acute toothache or infection in a nursing home that lacks adequate facilities, 15 Also, the hospital concentrates patients, thereby making best

12 Friedman, J. W.: A Basic Guide to Qualitative Standards for the Evaluation of Dental Care Programs (mimeo). Los Angeles: UCLA School of Public Health, 1965.

13 Hillenbrand, H. Keynotes: an address to dental examiners and dental educators. J. Amer. dent. Ass. 74: 1464, 1967.

14 Weyer, I. E., and Casey, G. J.: Planning the dental unit. Am. Hosp. A. J. 41: 69, 1967. For methods of practice, see B. L. Douglas and G. J. Casey, eds. A guide to hospital dental procedure. Chicago, Am. Dent. Assoc., 1964. 195 pp.

15 Douglas, B. L.: Dental care for the aged, N. Y. J. Dent. 29: 53, 151, 1963.

use of dentists' time. Programs have been developed for the provision of care in nursing homes and the patient's home. 16 17 I consider them inordinately wasteful of dental manpower which is already in short supply.

For dental care to be incorporated into hospital practice the physician must pay more than lip service to the concept of treating the whole patient rather than the admitting diagnosis. Many hospital staffs govern themselves according to the by-laws of the medical and dental staff. But even in those hospitals that have rather highly developed medical staff organizations, dental participation is most often limited to oral surgeons with the consequent emphasis on maxillofacial and interoral surgery rather than preventive and restorative dentistry. More recently, a number of hospitals have instituted well-equipped dental facilities for restorative treatment of patients under general anesthesia, especially those suffering from cerebral palsy and similar disabilities. However, only a few of the larger governmental hospitals such as those operated by the Veterans Administration include normal dental care in the total medical care program. In these hospitals newly admitted patients are screened by dentists and care is provided where it is deemed supportive of the general medical condition. For example, a long-term diabetic patient may receive dental treatment whereas a short-stay patient with a limb fracture may not. For this approach to be effective, general dental practitioners and prosthodontists must be present on the hospital staff and directly involved in diagnosis and treatment.

The manpower problem

Concerning the larger issue of dental manpower and especially the creation and expansion of duties of auxiliaries, the medical profession's passive attitude toward dentistry requires alteration. Dentistry is, after all, a specialty of medicine. What is true of medicine generally therefore is applicable to dentistry. As a corollary, the orthopedist is not expected to construct and fit prosthetic appliances or to personally train the patient in their use. Put another way, state medical practice acts do not specifically prohibit medical technicians from looking at, much less touching, patients. Yet, that is the status of dental practice legislation in this country. The law specifically prohibits dental technicians and assistants from taking impressions and fitting dentures. Laboratory technicians are even prohibited from taking the shade of the patient's natural teeth in order to match the color of prosthetic appliances, a process that requires visual but hardly physical contact. In order to remove tartar and stains from the exposed surfaces of the teeth, one must be either a licensed dentist or hygienist. There are historical reasons for these restrictions, but abuses of the past do not necessarily form a rational basis for present practices. Certainly it is not proposed that inadequately trained or unlicensed individuals be allowed to practice dentistry, rather that more rational practices be adopted in accord with present needs. Given adequate organization and surveillance controls, lesser trained auxiliaries can perform many dental tasks without jeopardy to the public. Indeed, this has been the experience of medical practice and there is no reason why it should not be applied to the practice of dentistry. Without this application there is absolutely no possibility of preventing the destruction of the natural dentition with or without the consensus of the public.

As stated previously, the American dental profession no longer opposes the expansion of the role of auxiliaries as such. It is even engaged in experiments to determine the feasible parameters of this expansion. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being expended to discover if dental assistants can take study impressions as well as dentists or place amalgam in prepared cavities.15 Many elements of the profession consider these experiments audacious if not outrageous, whereas others cite them as indicative of a progressive posture. However, these experiments are little more than simple demonstrations of the obvious, which has been known for nearly half a century. To be specific, New Zealand has been training school dental nurses since the 1920s. These nurses are trained in a two-year course to perform fillings, extractions, and other procedures for children. They work independently in dental operatories located in public schools. Parentheti


16 Douglas, B. L.: Dental care for the special patient (handicapped-chronically illaged.) Practical Dent. Monographs, Jan.-Feb. 1966. 28 pp.

17 Waldman, H. B., and Stein, M. For the Chronically Ill and Aged-A Plan for Total Dental Services (mimeo). Cleveland: Western Reserve University School of Dentistry, 1967.

18 Hammons, P. E., and Jamison, H. C.: Expanded functions for dental auxiliaries. J. Amer. dent. Ass. 75: 658, 1967.

19 Fulton, J. T.: Experiment in Dental Care; Results of New Zealand's Use of School Dental Nurses. (WHO Monograph Series No. 4) Geneva: World Health Organization 1951. 24-798-69—pt. 3—11

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