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Dental Health in Older Adults | Top 3 Dental Health Risks

By Jill Hamilton on July 18, 2013 in Dental Health


These are three common dental health challenges that older adults encounter.

Older adults can expect to experience a few age-related changes in their lifetime including problems with the teeth and gums. They may not be as concerned about the color of their braces or how much money the tooth fairy gives out anymore, but avoiding poor dental health in older adulthood requires consistent smile care.

These are three common dental health challenges that older adults encounter. Use our tips for avoiding them:

Tooth Decay —

Many people associate cavities with children chomping on candy. But, tooth decay is actually a common chronic problem for people 65 years and older. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 96 percent of adults aged 65 and older have had at least one cavity previously. 20 percent currently have untreated tooth decay.

Today, people are capable of keeping the majority of their teeth for their entire life. Tooth loss isn’t connected to aging. Poor oral health leads to tooth loss. And oral health concerns like tooth decay increase as gums recede away from teeth and root surfaces become exposed as a result of sustained poor dental care.

Mitigating this requires frequent attention both at home and from the dentist. The trouble is that many older adults don’t go to the dentist as often as they used to. 30% of older adults have problems with reliable transportation. Whether it’s due to mobility and independence issues or a lack of dental benefits, cavities often go untreated for longer than they should. Keeping regular dentist appointments is the key to maintaining dental health in older adulthood.

Dry mouth —

Did you know that saliva plays an important role in protecting your teeth and gums from plaque and other unhealthy bacteria? This means that people who experience dry mouth, which can be caused by medications, often see an increase in tooth decay.

To counter this, drink more water and limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Consider non-alcoholic mouthwashes, and even humidifiers can help make a difference. Check with your physician or dentist if you think your medications are causing your mouth to feel dry. They may be able to prescribe an alternative.

Gum Disease —

Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease affects people of all ages, but it worsens the longer it’s left untreated. While there are many factors that cause it, a foundation of proper brushing and flossing can prevent gum disease.

Older adults who have trouble gripping a standard toothbrush should ask their dentist for modified toothbrushes to better accommodate them. They may also want to consider a battery-powered toothbrush. Additionally, regular trips to the dentist are vital. Your dentist will be able to detect the presence of gum disease and create an oral health plan with you to treat it.

Quality dental health for older adults isn’t something that takes a lot of time and work, however combating age-related changes does require dedication to healthy habits.

Follow these tried and true tips for a smile that will last:

  • Brush teeth twice a day
  • Floss daily
  • Drink fluoridated water and use fluoridated toothpaste
  • Avoid tobacco products
  • Keep regular appointments with the dentist.

If you need to make an appointment with a dentist, use our handy search tool.

*Updated April 2019