Dental Connections

As Medicare’s deadline for enrollment approaches, local dentists hope people will make plans for caring for their oral health.

As Medicare’s Dec. 7 deadline for enrollment approaches, Umatilla County dentists hope people will make plans for caring for their oral health.

Dr. Todd Oyama of Medical Center Dental in Pendleton said while people tend to think of dental care as separate from other medical care, oral health has impacts beyond the mouth, and has been linked to systemic diseases, such as heart disease.

“It’s all the same body,” he said.

Oyama and Dr. Jason Walker, also of Medical Center Dental, said older patients can be at increased risk for dental problems, for a number of reasons. Patients’ gums can begin to recede, leaving them more vulnerable to decay of the tooth’s root, known as root caries.

As people age, their taste buds tend to become less sensitive, spurring them to favor richer, sweeter foods that are harder on teeth. And many medications for older adults cause dry mouth, which speeds tooth decay.

Walker said he often sees patients who came in regularly for cleanings while their employer paid for their dental insurance, but after they retired decided that since they haven’t had any significant issues with their teeth in the past, they can skip paying for cleanings and checkups.

“All of a sudden, they’ll come in and say, ‘This is hurting,’ and they’ll already have quite a bit of decay,” Walker said.

He suggested that if they are able, retirees should continue to come in twice a year for a cleaning to address the hard plaque buildup that home care won’t take care of, and to catch major problems before it’s too late to save a tooth or multiple teeth.

“Dentures are better than nothing, but our own teeth are ideal,” he said.

Oyama said good home care is also important for people of all ages, including regular brushing and flossing, fluoride mouthwash and a healthy diet.

Open enrollment for Medicare runs to Dec. 7. People can sign up for the first time, or shop for coverage that better fits their current needs. Eastern Oregon residents have new options available this year through Summit Health, a partnership between several Eastern Oregon hospitals that is providing Medicare Advantage plans.

Oregon residents can visit, call 1-800-722-4134 (toll-free), or email to find answers to questions or the nearest Oregon Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance volunteers who can help them enroll or change their plan before Dec. 7.

Hermiston-area residents can also call Good Shepherd Health Care System directly at 541-667-3509 to schedule assistance.

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