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Tooth Loss in Older Adults

The leading causes of tooth loss among adults 65 and older are tooth decay and gum disease, with 25% no longer have any natural teeth remaining. And, while tooth loss among seniors has declined over the past four decades or so, the issue remains serious, as there are indications that tooth loss and seriously debilitating diseases in seniors are linked.

Two recent studies have shown links between tooth loss and aging, tooth loss and socioeconomic factors, tooth loss and education levels, as well as tooth loss and disease. While more research is needed to determine the causal link, in other words which causes which, the data are telling.

Total and partial tooth loss among seniors

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the prevalence of both partial and total tooth loss in seniors has decreased from the early 1970s until the latest (1999-2004) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In spite of this improvement, significant disparities remain in some population groups.

In a somewhat stunning revelation, tooth decay remains the most prevalent chronic disease in seniors, causing excessive tooth loss for seniors age 65 and over and for selected population groups, even though it is largely preventable.

Number of Teeth Remaining:

  • Seniors over age 65 have an average of 18.90 remaining teeth.
  • Black seniors, current smokers, and those with lower incomes and less education have fewer remaining teeth.

Number of Adults with Total Tooth Loss:

  • 27.27% of seniors over age 65 have no remaining teeth

Older seniors, women, Black seniors, current smokers, and those with lower incomes and less education are more likely to have no remaining teeth.

Tooth loss and disease in older adults

In a long-term study performed by the Copenhagen Gerontological Oral Health Research Center, researchers began by assessing the number of teeth remaining intact among 573 nondisabled 70-year-old men and women living in Copenhagen in 1984.

When the study began, fewer than 20% had 20 or more natural teeth, and more than 40% had no natural teeth. The onset of disability was determined among study participants through follow-up assessments conducted five-, 10-, 15- and 20-years later, while the subjects' mortality was assessed over the subsequent 21 years.

Compared with elders maintaining 20 or more natural teeth, those with no or few teeth at age 70 were significantly more likely to report mobility problems, such as difficulty walking or climbing stairs within the next five or 10 years. Having no teeth at age 70 was also linked with greater mortality over the study period.

The associations remained strong even when investigators accounted for other factors potentially associated with disability and death – such as health-related problems and education.

The finding that tooth loss appears related to the onset of disability and mortality in old age raises important clinical issues for disease prevention and geriatric care; while also confirming the relationship between oral health and other diseases, about which we’ve written before here at the Dental Health Blog.

The doctors and staff at The Colorado Center for Implant and Prosthetic Dentistry are available to help you determine effective solutions to all of your dental problems. If you would like more information from your Littleton area Prosthodontist, please call to make an appointment today.

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