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Common Oral Health Problems for Older Adults

Oral health problems aren’t caused by aging, as many patients believe.

In fact, the dental and oral health of older Americans has greatly improved over the last 50 years. More senior adults than ever are keeping their natural teeth. And this trend is expected to continue.


Unfortunately, the cost of comprehensive dental care is out of reach for many aging adults, as only 22 percent have dental insurance. Also, many seniors suffer from chronic conditions and take medications that can degrade oral health.

As a result, certain oral conditions and diseases are common among older adults.

Tooth Decay Affects Seniors’ Oral Health

Cavities and tooth decay aren’t just kid problems. Anyone who still has his or her natural teeth can develop these troublesome dental issues. About 30 percent of Americans over age 65 have at least one untreated cavity, and that number jumps to 50 percent for people older than 75 years.

Older adults face an increased risk for cavities and tooth decay primarily as the result of gum recession. As we age, the gums naturally recede, potentially leaving tooth roots exposed and vulnerable to decay. As a result, cavities can develop below the gum line, as well as on the surfaces of the teeth and around fillings.

Another cause of tooth decay and cavities in aging adults is dry mouth, another common issue among older patients. Dry mouth is not a natural part of aging. In most cases, it is a side effect of medication or a consequence of other health conditions.

Gum Disease is a Widespread Oral Health Problem

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is also a widespread dental issue for aging Americans. Gum disease affects roughly 68 percent of adults over the age of 65.

Periodontal disease is common primarily because the condition is often painless until it reaches an advanced stage. Gingivitis, the milder form of gum disease, can be reversed with proper dental hygiene and regular professional cleanings. Left untreated, however, it can progress into periodontitis. Advanced gum disease can destroy the gums, tissues and bones that support the teeth, leading to tooth loss.

Oral Cancer and Senior Oral Health

Experts estimate that more than 48,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. The risk increases with age, with the condition most often occurring in people over 40. The average age of oral cancer diagnosis is 62, and two-thirds of patients diagnosed with oral cancer are over 55.

This condition is largely preventable, as most cases of oral and pharyngeal cancer are related to tobacco and alcohol use. And with early detection, patients have a significantly better chance for successful treatment.

At Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah, we know that helping older adults maintain excellent oral health provides a better quality of life. Contact one of our convenient Salt Lake City, Utah, area offices today to schedule a consultation. We look forward to assisting your entire family in maintaining excellent oral health.

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