According to the Oral Health web page of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as the CDC, 25% of adults aged 65 and older no longer have any natural teeth remaining. The CDC also estimates the size of this age group to be more than 41 million; meaning that more than 10 million Americans of retirement age need total tooth replacement. Since this is also the fastest growing age group in the US, as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age, this problem will continue to grow.
“Interestingly, toothlessness varies greatly by state. Roughly 42 percent of Americans over age 65 living in West Virginia are toothless, compared to only 13 percent of those living in California. Having missing teeth can affect nutrition, since people without teeth often prefer soft, easily chewed foods. Because dentures are not as efficient for chewing food as natural teeth, denture wearers also may choose soft foods and avoid fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Do Not Fear Tooth Replacement
The leading causes of tooth loss among this age group are tooth decay and gum disease. Surprisingly, older adults may suffer from new tooth decay at a higher rate than do children, especially to the tooth root, due to gum recession. Further, about ¼ of adults in the 65-74 years age group suffer from severe gum disease, or periodontal diseases. Men are more likely to suffer from this condition than women, while those with lower incomes will experience and even higher incidence of gum disease. (This is true regardless of age, in fact.)
Not only do diseases associated with aging lead to oral health issues, but poor oral hygiene can exacerbate many diseases we associate with aging. In short, oral health care among older Americans has become an important issue, due the rapid growth of this age group, which will continue for decades to come.
Oral health tips for seniors
The CDC recommends these steps to improve the oral health of older adults:
- Drink fluoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste; fluoride provides protection against dental decay at all ages.
- Practice good oral hygiene. Careful tooth brushing and flossing to reduce dental plaque can help prevent periodontal disease.
- It is important to see your dentist on a regular basis, even if you have no natural teeth and have dentures. Professional care helps to maintain the overall health of the teeth and mouth, and provides for early detection of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions.
- Avoid tobacco. In addition to the general health risks posed by tobacco use, smokers have seven times the risk of developing periodontal disease compared to non-smokers. Tobacco used in any form—cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless (spit) tobacco—increases the risk for periodontal disease, oral and throat cancers, and oral fungal infection (candidiasis). Spit tobacco containing sugar also increases the risk of cavities.
- Limit alcohol. Drinking a high number of alcoholic beverages is a risk factor for oral and throat cancers. Alcohol and tobacco used together are the primary risk factors for these cancers.
- Make sure that you or your loved one gets dental care prior to having cancer chemotherapy or radiation to the head or neck. These therapies can damage or destroy oral tissues and can result in severe irritation of the oral tissues and mouth ulcers, loss of salivary function, rampant tooth decay, and destruction of bone.
- Caregivers should reinforce the daily oral hygiene routines of elders who are unable to perform these activities independently.
- Sudden changes in taste and smell should not be considered signs of aging, but should be a sign to seek professional care.
- If medications produce a dry mouth, ask your doctor if there are other drugs that can be substituted. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco and alcohol.
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 Prosthodontist, please call to make an appointment today.