The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050 adults over 80 years of age will make up nearly 20% of the world’s population, and all healthcare – including oral healthcare – will be challenged to meet the needs.
How is Oral Health Affected by Age?
As you age, your mouth changes. Nerves become less sensitive, which can lead to dental problems becoming serious health risks before they are detected. Other issues include:
- Reduced saliva. Saliva helps keep teeth clean, reduces bacteria, and keeps oral tissue moist. As adults age, salivary flow diminishes. Pharmaceutical advances have had a role in extending life, but many medicines may have adverse side effects, including xerostomia, or “dry mouth.” 30% of patients over 65 have xerostomia, primarily due to use of their prescribed drugs.
- Cognitive decline. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, as well as the normal mental decline brought on by aging, can make it difficult to maintain dental health self-care.
- Increased risk for cavities. Several factors as we age, including increased gum recession which exposes root surfaces, and the increased risk of xerostomia, lead to 50% of adults 75 or older having root caries in at least one tooth, with 10% having secondary coronal caries.
- Inadequate nutrition. Proper nutrition is vital to promoting the health and well being of the elderly. Appetite and food intake may decrease as we age. In addition, loose or missing teeth, ill-fitting dentures, or other oral health issues, may affect caloric intake. Nutrition and oral health are closely interrelated.
- Lack of regular checkups. As we get older, it may be more difficult to visit a dentist regularly. If they are unable to drive, older patients may not want to bother friends or relatives, fearing they will be a burden.
Awareness of the health risks that accompany aging allows us to be proactive in meeting and overcoming them. In addition to good oral health routines, staying informed about improvements in dental care and regular visits with your dentist will help you to assure that your mouth “ages gracefully.”