NetWellness is a global, community service providing quality, unbiased health information from our partner university faculty. NetWellness is commercial-free and does not accept advertising.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Continued good oral health care – from daily brushing and flossing to regular dental visits – will help the older adult keep a healthy smile, and can also contribute to good overall health.
The link between good oral health and good overall health is strong. The U.S. Surgeon General and numerous health associations continue to spread the message that “oral health is essential to general health and well-being.”
Periodontal (gum) disease or tooth decay (cavities) are the most frequent causes of tooth loss. Older Americans continue to experience dental decay on the crowns of teeth (coronal caries) and on tooth roots (because of gum recession). In fact, older adults may have new tooth decay at higher rates than children.
Severity of periodontal (gum) disease increases with age. About 23 percent of 65- to 74-year-olds have severe disease, which is measured by 6mm loss of attachment of the tooth to the adjacent gum tissue. At all ages men are more likely than women to have more severe disease. At all ages, people at the lowest socioeconomic level have the most severe periodontal disease.
Oral and pharyngeal cancers, which are diagnosed in some 31,000 Americans each year, result in about 7,400 deaths each year. These cancers are primarily diagnosed in the elderly. Prognosis is poor. The five-year survival rate for white patients is 56 percent and for African American patients is only 34 percent.
Most older Americans take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Over 400 commonly used medicines can be the cause of a dry mouth. Reduction of the flow of saliva increases the risk for oral disease, since saliva contains antimicrobial components as well as minerals that help rebuild tooth enamel attacked by decay-causing bacteria. Individuals in long-term care facilities—about 5 percent of the elderly—take an average of eight drugs each day.
Painful conditions that affect the facial nerves are more common among the elderly and can be severely debilitating. These conditions can affect:
Neurological diseases associated with age, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and stroke also affect oral sensory and motor functions, in addition to limiting the ability to care for oneself.
Last Reviewed: Jul 03, 2014