Here’s What You Need to Know About Aging and Dental Health

Cropped SingleCare logo By | March 16, 2016

Dental hygiene is important to maintain throughout your life — and seniors are at particular risk for unique oral health problems. Proper care and consistent checkups dramatically lower that danger.

We all love flashing a pearly white smile. But in old age, maintaining those chompers can be more difficult. In fact, according to Oral Health America, 50% of the estimated 43.2 million Americans aged 65 and older have cavities. Why is this number so high? And what can be done to lower it? While growing old naturally increases the risk of oral health problems, there are a few simple steps that can reduce that likelihood — giving you good reason to smile.

Teeth Troubles

An elderly man seeing a doctor
Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock

Older Americans face many oral health issues, some of which are more serious than others. Problems like darkened teeth and a diminished sense of taste simply start to occur because of the accumulated wear a mouth goes through over a long lifetime, according to WebMD. The thinning of enamel and years of drinking coffee darken your pearly whites, and taste naturally starts to dissipate with the aging process. This can be exacerbated by certain diseases, medications, and dentures. The same is true of dry mouth, which also increases the chance of oral disease, since saliva helps rebuild tooth enamel and fights bacteria, as the CDC reports.

Seniors have more prevalent cases of root decay than other demographics, which is caused by receding gum lines, exposing the sensitive root of the tooth. Gum disease, the leading cause of tooth loss, is a result of plaque buildup and residual food in the teeth. Tobacco use, poor diet, and certain diseases can also contribute to gum disease. The severity of the disease actually increases with age, and older adults have higher rates of new tooth decay than children.

Dismal Dentistry

These problems are particularly high in older adults for a variety of reasons — which aren’t all directly oral aging-related. Conditions like arthritis can make flossing and brushing difficult and painful, while heavy use of medications also affect oral health. Furthermore, two of the biggest contributing factors to poor oral health are limited financial resources and lack of insurance.

In states like Ohio, the most unmet need of low-income adults is dental care — almost 37 percent of the state’s economically disadvantaged seniors have had all their teeth removed, as the Columbus Dispatch reports. These statistics vary greatly by state, however, due at least in part to different systems of Medicaid, which often doesn’t fully compensate the dentists for treatments. Unfortunately, many other states have been forced to cut Medicaid dental programs under budget restraints.

A Tooth Fairy?

An elderly woman getting an X-ray

There are steps seniors can take to minimize their likelihood of contracting a dental disease, as WebMD emphasizes. Disciplined brushing routines at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once a day helps eliminate plaque, preventing gum disease, and tooth decay. Using an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice a day has also been shown reduce the number of plaque-causing bacteria in the mouth as well.

Of course, regular visits to the dentist for checkups and, more importantly, cleanings are vital — but are often the first appointments to be sacrificed when budgets are tight. Many seniors lose dental coverage after retiring or simply cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs.

Enter SingleCare. Members pay only for the treatments they need at the same negotiated prices used by insurance companies, even without the insurance coverage typically required to get in the door. SingleCare’s online database lets users search for best, most affordable dentists, so great oral healthcare is never out of reach, for seniors and everyone else.

(Main image credit: Hconq/Thinkstock)