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Aging And Dental Health

Older adults, which comprise 20% of the population, are those age 65 years and older. They are estimated to reach up to 72 million in the U.S. alone by the year 2030. Due to increased awareness in dental health, more older adults have retained their natural teeth compared to previous generations of aging adults. However, the retained natural teeth most likely have untreated dental caries, periodontitis, and other dental problems.

Physiologic changes in aging

As people age, there is a correlated decrease in organ mass, body fluid, and functional reserves. This leads to changes in overall body balance or homeostasis. There are changes in sensitivity to temperature, blood flow, adaptability to illnesses, and the capacity to recuperate.

Physically, aging people are noted to have decreased muscle and bone mass. They are also prone to osteoarthritis which is joint degeneration due to overuse as one grows older. There are age-related visual and hearing changes as well. Aging adults are prone to falls due to decreasing balance. They will experience cognitive changes such as dementia or increased forgetfulness.

These physiologic changes affect the body's response to illnesses or even to daily care that can lead to more complications if not addressed early on. Due to poor cognitive health, one may find it hard to take medications on time and properly. One may forget or neglect daily hygiene activities including teeth and gum care. Poor muscle and bone health and joint pains limit movements, and this may cause difficulty even in brushing one's teeth.

Comorbidities and dental health

Although older adults may still have very satisfactory overall health and be functional and independent, some will have at least one chronic condition, and some may be frail or impaired despite being at a "younger" elderly age. The comorbidities may have a direct or indirect effect on dental health.

If one takes multiple prescription medications, decreased organ function may easily cause side effects. Some medications may cause changes in salivary glands, which excrete substances that keep the mouth moist, and have bacteria-fighting properties. Some medications may cause thinning of the blood that may lead to bleeding with minimal injury. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause poor healing such that unmanaged gum infection and teeth problems may experience complications (e.g. abscesses or even blood infection).

What could be done

* It is recommended that older adults especially those with dry mouths regular take water throughout the day.

* Limit intake of alcoholic beverages, and those high in sugar and caffeine.

* Continue providing topical fluoride even to older adults.

* Ensure good oral hygiene is maintained at home. Using rotating toothbrushes may be helpful for those with limitation of movement. Having regular dental appointments is a good practice to prevent complicated dental problems.

* Due to cardiovascular disease risks, an epinephrine dose for anesthesia must be used sparingly and cautiously. Excess use of this drug may cause heart problems.

* The patient and possible caregivers must be educated regarding oral health care especially for those at risk of cognitive impairment.

* For dental health practitioners, always remember that the cognitive impairments of older adults may cause problems with communications and self-care. Be understanding when providing instructions, and explaining the procedure. Ensure that sutures are well-placed, and that the patient is stable before discharging him/her.

Top Dental Problems In Older Adults

Older adults are prone to experiencing several oral and dental problems. In fact, those who are more than 65 years old are at risk of having more tooth decay in comparison to other age groups. To help prepare for these issues, gaining knowledge about some of the most common dental problems affecting older adults is a must.

Dry Mouth

Older people are often prone to producing less saliva, which is supposed to act as a natural protector for your mouth as it limits bacterial growth, cleanses your mouth of food, and ensures that your teeth are filled with protective minerals. Reduced saliva caused by dry mouth can, therefore, trigger dental decay.

If you are experiencing it then be aware that some of the major causes of it are cancer therapy, certain ailments, and some medicines, like antidepressants, bladder medications, anti-anxiety drugs, antihistamines, and diuretics. In this case, consider asking your pharmacist or doctor if it is possible to change your prescription, or lower your dose to prevent the dryness in your mouth.

Drinking enough water daily while staying away from foods and drinks rich in sugar can help, too. You can also stimulate the production of saliva by chewing gums and lozenges.

Gum Disease

Also called periodontal disease, gum disease takes place when your gums, as well as the tissues holding your teeth in place, get infected. This might also result from the buildup of plaque along and under your gum line.

If you are suffering from a mild gum disease, then improving your oral hygiene can help reverse it. It is also advisable to brush and floss every day. Visiting your dentist regularly is necessary for preventing, and catching the problem before it gets the chance to progress.

Tooth Decay

Older adults are also at risk of tooth decay and cavities. There is even a chance for you to get these cavities on certain surfaces in your teeth that are never problematic before. Note, however, that the decay might also happen around the roots of your teeth, as well as your old fillings. It is mainly because the roots tend to get softer as you age.

To fix this problem, make it a point to use fluoride. If you have no access to fluorinated water then a wise tip is to add a fluoride rinse to your daily brushing habit. You might also ask your dentist if he can prescribe a stronger fluoride gel for you.

Gum Recession

This problem occurs gradually and is often characterized by the gums shrinking away from your teeth. It tends to affect older adults especially if they have poor dental hygiene and certain gum diseases. Other possible causes of it are teeth grinding and smoking. If you do not treat receding gums immediately then it can significantly damage your oral tissue, which can further lead to tooth loss, and the development of more gum disease.

You can avoid this problem through good oral hygiene. It is also advisable to avoid sugar-filled foods and quit smoking. In case you show signs of gum recession, visiting your dentist right away is necessary. Your dentist might recommend a few treatment options, like deep cleaning and scaling.


Early identification of the mentioned dental problems in older adults can help treat them right away. You can also avoid them through daily brushing and flossing. Be fully aware of the changes to your mouth, too, and schedule regular dental examinations to keep your teeth, gums, and their surrounding tissues healthy even as you age.