Poor Statistics For Oral Health Of Nation’s Aging Adults

added on: March 4, 2012

About 25% of U.S. adults age 60 and older no longer have any natural teeth. 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, many denture wearers also choose soft foods and avoid fresh fruits and vegetables.

According to the U.S. Census, nearly 40 million Americans are 65 years or older, accounting for 13 percent of the population. With baby boomers (born 1946 through 1964) now turning 65, the number of older people will increase dramatically, projected to grow to nearly 20% of the total population by 2030.

Americans are living longer than ever before. Current life expectancies show people who survive to age 65 can expect to live an average of 18.5 more years. Life expectancy of adults who live to age 85 will have an additional 6 years.

Americans with the poorest oral health are older adults who are economically disadvantaged and lack insurance. This is because many older Americans, after retirement, have no dental insurance benefits and must survive on limited incomes. Being disabled, homebound, or institutionalized also increases the risk of poor oral health.

Periodontal (gum) disease or cavities are the most frequent causes of tooth loss. Because of gum recession, older Americans continue to experience dental decay on the crowns of teeth and on tooth roots. Severity of periodontal (gum) disease increases with age. About 23% of 65- to 74-year-olds have severe gum disease, with men more likely to have more severe disease.

In addition to the risk of gum disease, older adults are also the most diagnosed for oral and pharyngeal cancers. These cancers are primarily diagnosed in the elderly. Prognosis is poor, resulting in about 7,400 deaths each year. Additionally, most older Americans take prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Those who are in long-term care facilities take an average of eight drugs per day. Over 400 commonly used medications can be the cause of a dry mouth. Reduction of the flow of saliva increases the risk for oral disease.

Older Americans have increased risk for complications from influenza and pneumonia. Vaccinations are recommended for these diseases with the majority of older adults complying. In 2008, 67% of people age 65 and over received an annual ?u shot and 79% of those 85 and over had a yearly shot. Yet, older adults have new tooth decay at higher rates than children. Even so, a recent study shows nearly 50% of Americans age 65 and older did not visit their dentist in the past year.

Until adults realize the importance of their oral health in relation to their overall health, tooth loss will continue to be a problem of our aging population. Dental visits should never be deemed as an elective (or postpone-able) part of one’s health care. Tooth loss affects nutritional intake, digestion, self-confidence, and self-esteem. It is possible for adults to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime, which occurs with the involvement of regular dental visit. For those who have lost teeth, replacing them with Dental Implants can restore the ability to bite and chew comfortably and securely.