Why are Older Adults at an Increased Risk for Mouth & Gum Disease?

Group of standing seniors put hands stacked in the middle of a circleDid you know that one-in-five Americans over the age of 65 are experiencing untreated tooth decay (also referred to as cavities or caries)?

When cavities and gum problems are left untreated, teeth can become painful, loose, or broken. In some cases, these issues make it harder to eat and may even cause changes in physical appearance.

Many may feel less productive or experience low self-esteem because of poor oral health .

We’re fortunate to live at a time when adults are less likely to lose their teeth as they age. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that tooth decay and gum disease – two of the most common mouth diseases – remain a risk, especially for older adults.

Risk Factors for Older Adults

If you’re a senior, several things may put you at an increased risk for tooth and root decay. Here are some of the most common:

  • Receding gums. As we age, many people experience receding gums. This can expose the root surfaces of the teeth, leaving them vulnerable.
  • Dry mouth. Seniors are also more likely to experience excessive dry mouth, which can be caused by certain medications. Saliva is important for protecting your teeth from bacteria – having less of it puts you at increased risk for cavities.
  • Limited dexterity, mobility, and tolerance of stress. Many seniors experience health challenges that can create obstacles for maintaining good oral hygiene, visiting a dental office, or tolerating treatment. In some cases, you may need a caregiver to help maintain daily self-care, and to ensure you receive regular oral exams and other preventive

These factors might explain why approximately 50% of people over age 75 have root cavities affecting at least one tooth, and why about 25% of seniors have experienced bone loss around the teeth as a result of advanced gum disease. Without early intervention, these issues become increasingly difficult to treat.

Another issue affecting the oral health of older adults is that, compared to younger generations, seniors experienced higher rates of dental cavities and tooth removal as young adults. This history can lead to greater challenges for dental treatment later in life.

No matter your age, you can always take steps to improve your oral health. Brush and floss daily, and make sure to keep up with your regular dentist visits, including cleanings, exams, and X-rays. If you’re having trouble keeping up with a brushing and flossing routine, check out our Tooth Brushing Tips for Older Adults and Flossing Alternatives articles.

About the Author

Saroj Gupta, DDS

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

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