Editorial: How Old is Old?

Editorial: How Old is Old?

William E. Stein, D.D.S.*:
 
 
I remember back many, many years ago when I was a kid, how weak and feeble our grandparents were at age 60. They all had dentures and were shuffling around and were dead within the next ten years.
 
Thanks be to God, now 60 is the new 40. I played golf last week with two of my buddies. We are all in our early sixties, and among us we have a quadruple bypass, a triple stent, and a cyberknife surgery which has sent a melanoma into remission. 
 
Shoot, 40 years ago we’d all be dead. Now we’re having the time of our lives. One of us is enjoying his many grandchildren, the other is enjoying skiing, golf, and escaping for the present a  death sentence, and I have a puppy.
 
The “graying of America” brings with its new definition of aging a variety of issues for all of us, and Northwest Dentistry will continue to address them in all of its departments. In this issue,  we have a clinical feature on medical conditions of geriatric dental patients by the Drs. Grover and Rhodus.** Thus I do not digress (or ramble) when I observe that it is truly amazing there  are so many of us oldsters still enjoying practicing dentistry due to having excellent young associates and embracing the new technologies that are available to us that make us so much  more effective, reduce our frustrations, and make dentistry fun again. 
 
Now I can sit back and see that we have a whole bunch of patients who are in their seventies, eighties, nineties, and yes, their hundreds.  
 
Those of us in our sixties have the distinct possibility of living for another 40 years.
 
One day three years ago I had a patient who was 101 years old. I have known him for years; he lives on my lake. A widower, he remarried at the age of 95 to a pert young widow two years  his junior after giving up golf that year because he could no longer shoot his age. He is still going strong at 104. Yet he was not my oldest patient that day! That honor goes to a feisty lady  of 103. Living in her apartment in minimal assisted care, she had just given up her weekly poker game because the ladies thought the 25 cent ante was too high so they dropped it back to 10  cents, and she wasn’t going to play with such a bunch of cheapskates. She was truly the stereotypical “mother-in-law”, and my poor friend, her son-in-law, had to endure her acerbic repartee for almost 50 years. 
 
So there is a whole population of seniors over the age of 60 who will present in our offices with a myriad of problems, a lot of them caused by the medications they are taking. Medication- caused “dry mouth” seems to me to be the greatest problem. I recently saw a patient about ten years older than I am. I have treated him and his family for more than 30 years. He hadn’t  been in for a checkup for well over two years, and here he was with his mouth ravaged with rampant caries. Upon questioning, he told me he was on medication that left his mouth so dry  that for relief he chewed sugared gum all day long and went to bed sucking on a sugared cough drop which he replaced at least twice during the night. The perfect storm of tooth decay, and  it is becoming more common. 
 
As seniors age with their teeth intact, we need to become expertly knowledgeable on how to treat them. Speaking of people in need of treatment, be sure to check out our cover feature on  the “Minnesota Mission of Mercy”.† What a great service the dentists of Minnesota and the surrounding states have provided to the many people in need of dental care. 
 
It breaks my heart to  think of so many people in need and how if the money confiscated from dentists by the MinnesotaCare tax would only be used to fund dental care for the needy, as we were led to believe it  would be in the beginning, rather than having it siphoned off to the “General Fund” for God knows what purpose, we would not have an “access problem” (or whatever euphemism by which  we now address this travesty).
 
May God bless all the generous souls who contributed to this wonderful effort, the Minnesota Mission of Mercy. 
 
 
 
*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota, AitkinDent@AOL.com 
**“Common Medical Conditions in Elderly Dental Patients, Part One: Cardiovascular Implications and Management”.
†“Touching Lives Through Smiles: The First-Ever Minnesota Mission of Mercy”