Common Oral Health Issues in Older Adults

As long as many of us can remember, daily teeth brushing and flossing and visits to the dentist office every six months were a regular routine, howbeit, one we didn’t particularly care for. We were told at a young age that good oral hygiene was the key in healthy teeth and gums. If proper care was done throughout our lives, we’ll have more of our teeth remaining when we got older.

Yet, you likely have a grandparent or aging parents who have partial or full dentures. In fact, so many older adults have dentures that the two have subconsciously become synonymous with each other. In certain instances, poor oral hygiene is the root cause of someone losing most, if not all, of their teeth. However, this is not the case for everyone. As we age, our teeth wear out like the rest of our bodies, and are therefore more prone to disease, infections and complications.

Many of the common oral health issues that occur as we age are exacerbated by other health issues and common medications that older adults take for those health issues. Specifically, these are the common issues of the teeth and gums that can occur:

  • Tooth loss
  • Oral cancer
  • Thrush
  • Cavities (tooth decay)
  • Gum disease
  • Infections of the mouth and sinuses
  • Inability to taste
  • Denture lesions
  • Oral candidiasis
  • Dry mouth
  • Mucosal lesions
  • Receding gums

Dry mouth can cause a variety of oral health issues, namely tooth decay and gum disease. As we age, our saliva production gradually decreases. Saliva is the body’s built-in mouth cleaner and it plays an essential role in keeping the mouth healthy, functioning properly and looking great. When not enough saliva is produced, trapped bacteria, mostly in the form of lodged food particles, have a better environment to thrive and attach onto teeth. The acid produced by this bacteria eats away at the tooth enamel, slowly penetrating deeper into the tooth. If cavities aren’t treated, they can lead to tooth death and the tooth will need to be extracted. Untreated decayed teeth can also form an infection in the root of the tooth, which is in the jawbone. The infection can spread into the jawbone tissue, making the jaw weaker.

Heart medication, and medication to treat blood pressure and cholesterol and depression have a known side effect of producing dry mouth.

In addition, the strength of seniors’ teeth and gums are naturally weakened from many years of use, wear and tear. As we age, for instance, our enamel, the hard, outermost protective covering of the tooth gradually deteriorates, making our teeth more vulnerable to injury, decay, infections and staining.

The lack of taste, whether it’s caused from medication or other underlying health conditions such as kidney disease or chronic liver disease, can lead older adults to unintentionally harm their already compromised oral health. This might include adding excessive salt to flavor food or consuming very hot foods that burn the gums.