Top 5 Elderly Dental Problems, Their Common Causes + FAQ
As we step into our golden years, our teeth begin to show signs of wear and age. Tooth decay, tooth loss, dry mouth and gum disease are common oral health problems we face in our later years.
We have the best oral condition in our twenties. Our immune system is at its optimum state. Teeth that erupted in the mouth for about a decade have stabilized. Our acidic diet has not yet damaged the teeth. Our teeth have not been exposed to excessive forces from an uneven bite, bruxism and sleep apnea. Also, our genetic susceptibility to dental problems has not fully shown its adverse effects.
As we age, various factors cause the breakdown of the tooth composition and its supporting structure. In short, the most common cause of dental problems is recurrent decay under pre-existing dental work (e.g. under crowns). The best way to prevent these problems is to complete routine dental exams and cleanings. The top 5 most common dental health conditions seniors face are the following:
Gum Disease (Periodontitis)
Gum disease in the elderly and others is generally caused by inflammation. Gum disease (periodontitis) is an infection that damages the tissue surrounding the gum. Gum disease is associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It can also result in bone loss.
Gum Recession (Gingival)
Gum recession is a very common issue in seniors. Gingival (gum) recession is a condition that exposes the tooth’s root. Since the root is 10x more susceptible to breakdown from the acidic diet the teeth are quickly damaged.
Tooth or Crown Loss
Inflammation causes premature tooth loss, requiring dentures as a form of teeth replacement for the elderly. An implant can support the denture; without the dental implant, the denture can be loose at times, making it difficult to chew, which can interfere with speech and esthetics. However, many older patients begin having problems with the crowns that they had received in previous years on top of their own tooth or an implant.
The senior population, those aged 65 years and older make up 15% of the US population but uses 40% of all prescription drugs (source). People aged 65-69 years fill an average of 14 prescriptions per year, and adults aged 80-84 years average 18 prescriptions per year for medical conditions like heart disease or blood pressure.
One of the most common side effects of almost all medications is dry mouth. Dry mouth results in a decrease in salivary flow. The saliva acts as a buffer that coats the tooth and provides physical cleansing on the tooth.
The decrease in salivary flow causes cavities and rampant tooth decay especially on the exposed root surface and causes pain. Lastly, we should mention that aging teeth and gums are more susceptible to teeth fractures and structural breakdown.
The most prevalent cause of dental problems is gradual decay that occurs under previously done dental work. For example, if you had a crown placed on one of your teeth to extend its life and restore its function. It is imperative to keep that crown and your tooth under it in check and in good shape. Otherwise, you can develop various conditions such as complete tooth loss due to lack of regular examination and cleaning. Dr. Wu’s advice to all her patients, especially older adults, is to continuously monitor your oral health so you can prevent irreversible dental problems such as tooth loss. This will save you many complicated procedures in the future and protect your earlier investments, such as an implant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is dental health important for seniors?
Dental health impacts overall well-being and health, so it is important for everyone not to neglect their oral care. Unfortunately, the older population suffers from a deficiency in seeking dental care. The lack of adequate dental services jeopardizes seniors’ oral and overall health. Therefore, dental health for seniors is something that should be more accessible and promoted.
What are the most common oral conditions affecting the elderly population?
Tooth decay, tooth loss, gum disease, gum recession, and cavities are the most common dental health issues the elderly face in the United States.
What is the most common cause of tooth loss in the elderly?
Inflammation in the structure surrounding a tooth is a major factor in loosening and eventual loss of the tooth for seniors.
How can dental problems cause issues for elderly people?
Aging teeth and gum are more susceptible to decay or cavities, which will cause various health complications for the individual. According to Holistic Dentistry and various studies, there is a correlation between dental health and oral health. Therefore, it is imperative to monitor and maintain dental health, especially for seniors closely.
How can the elderly take better care of their teeth and gum?
Routine comprehensive dental check-ups with a dentist are strongly recommended for the elderly as they are at a high risk of developing dental issues and oral cancer. Therefore, regular checkups play a critical role in the early diagnosis and treatment of dental issues in older adults.
Additionally, brushing and flossing are the most important dental hygiene routines for better oral health. However, brushing might become a difficult task to perform correctly for some elderly due to decreased dexterity. One solution for better brushing is the use of an electric toothbrush.