Oral Health for Seniors: 5 Questions and Answers

What comes to mind when you think of Oral Health? Bad breath, bad teeth, gum disease or false teeth? Older people should think deeper since bad Oral Health can cause tremendous overall health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(1) (CDC)  states that:

  • Older people are keeping their natural teeth than ever before. However, among those aged 65 years and over there are sharp differences by income, with those in poverty twice as likely as those with higher incomes to have lost all their teeth.
  • Many older Americans take medications for chronic conditions that have side effects detrimental to their oral health. These include antihistamines, diuretics, and antidepressants.
  • One-third of adults aged 65 years and over have untreated dental caries; slightly over 40 percent have periodontal disease.
  • Dental insurance covers only 22 percent of older persons; most elderly dental expenses are paid out-of-pocket.

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Black Men have lower Throat Cancer Survival Rates

The differences in Oral Health between racial groups are striking in the United States.  The 5–year survival rate(2) is lower for oral pharyngeal (throat) cancers among black men than whites (36% versus 61%). Non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians and Alaska Natives have the poorest oral health of any racial and ethnic groups in the United States according to the CDC’s Oral Health Division(3).

Lifestyle choices such as high tobacco and alcohol use and poor dietary choices contribute to poor Oral Health among Black Americans. Economic factors also play a major role in the oral health of Black Americans. The median household income for Black Americans in 2014 was $35,600 according to The U.S. Census(4). This economic fact alone directly relates to poor oral health include access to health services and an individual’s ability to get and keep dental insurance. The percentage of adults ages 65 and over with a dental visit in the past year: 60.6% in 2013(5).  This dental visit rate compares poorly to the percentage of children ages 2-17 with a dental visit in the past year: 83.0% (2013).

The Questions & Answers about Oral Health for Seniors

Oral Health for Seniors: 5 Questions and Answers

70.1% of adults aged 65 and older, have periodontal disease.

The National Institutes of Health’s Dental and Craniofacial Research Division(6) (NIH) asks the following questions and provides a brief answer:

  1. Is dry mouth a natural part of the aging process? Dry mouth is not a part of the aging process itself; it’s important to find the cause of dry mouth so you can get relief.
  2. Is tooth decay just kid stuff? Tooth decay can develop at any age.
  3. Is Gum disease just a part of growing older? You can prevent gum disease – it does not have to be a part of getting older.
  4. If you don’t use chewing tobacco, you don’t need to worry about oral cancer. It’s not just smokeless tobacco (“dip” and “chew”) that can increase your chances of getting oral cancer.
  5. How can you protect your teeth against decay?
    • Brush your teeth twice a day (with a fluoride toothpaste)
    • Floss regularly to remove plaque from between teeth. Or use a device such as a special brush or wooden or plastic pick recommended by a dental professional.
    • Visit the dentist regularly for a check-up and professional cleaning
    • Don’t smoke or use chewing tobacco or snuff
    • Eat a well-balanced diet

Additional information can be found on the American Dental Association(7) and the National Institute on Aging(8) websites.

Jim Rohm’s quote that “Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well,” applies to your Oral Health.

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  1. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/01facts/olderame.htm#ORAL%20HEALTH
  2. http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/oral_health_disparities/index.htm
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/oral_health_disparities/index.htamericans-below-normal-range/m
  4. http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_14_5YR_B19013B&prodType=table
  5. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/dental.htm
  6. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/OralHealthInformation/OlderAdults/#cavities
  7. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/adults-over-60/
  8. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/taking-care-your-teeth-and-mouth

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