There’s a common misconception that as people age, their likelihood of getting cavities decreases. This is hardly the case. In fact, the risk can rise as we age.
Tooth decay is as much a problem in seniors as it is in kids. It’s also a more persistent threat now that most aging adults keep at least some of their teeth. Just 50 years ago, more than half of people over age 65 in the United States had lost all their teeth and needed dentures. Now, recent data finds only 15% of people ages 65 to 74 and 22% of those over 75 are toothless, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But those with teeth don’t always have healthy teeth: more than 20% of people over age 65 had untreated cavities in 2008, CDC says.
Cavities can lead to pain, infection and tooth loss. They also can come as quite a shock for aging adults! Some factors that increase the threat of cavities in older adults are:
• Diet — especially sugar. Sugar is bad for your teeth whether you are 7 or 70. When you eat or drink sugar, bacteria in your mouth produce acid. That acid breaks down the protective enamel on teeth, allowing decay. Eating acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, also can damage enamel.
• Dry mouth. It’s a side effect of more than 500 medications, including many commonly used by older adults.
• Cognitive and health challenges. People with dementia may forget to brush or “don’t care about it,” and caregivers may not know how to help. Lost dexterity and other physical problems with people with dementia can get in the way of dental hygiene. We, at THE SCIENCE OF SMILES, can teach caregivers to assist with dental hygiene for their loved ones or patients they care for.
Cavity prevention, at any age, means brushing with a fluoride toothpaste at least two times a day, for two minutes at a time, plus flossing and regular dental visits.