What are Dental Concerns for Older Adults?

The golden years! The kids are grown and settled. There’s finally more time to take those leisurely rides around Madison’s beautiful Lake Monona that you’ve put off for so long. These quieter times are the perfect opportunity to spend more time caring for you, who’ve spent so long caring for others. As you dedicate more time to self-care, the question might come up: what are dental concerns for older adults? Here’s a quick list of some oral health issues to keep an eye on.

  • Cavities
  • Tooth Loss
  • Gum Disease
  • Oral Cancer


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all adults over the age of sixty-five have had a cavity and twenty percent of this age group have untreated tooth decay.

One reason older adults are challenged by tooth decay is because of dry mouth. Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva. When this happens, saliva doesn’t wash away food, plaque, bacteria, and acids on the teeth, leading to decay.

While not typically a symptom of older age, dry mouth can be caused by hundreds of different kinds of medications, radiation, and chemotherapy. If you are suffering from dry mouth, be sure to mention your condition to your doctor or dentist, who can help you find a way to ease the symptoms.

Cavities later in life can also be the result of attrition, or the wearing down of the teeth from use over time. When teeth get worn down like this, the protective enamel around the teeth breaks down. The inner dentin of the tooth then becomes more vulnerable to bacteria and decay.

More on Cavities and dry mouth related to prescription drugs.

Tooth Loss

Older adults are also more at risk for tooth loss. Almost twenty percent of adults over sixty-five have lost all of their teeth. Missing teeth can lead to additional health challenges, such as getting proper nutrition. Regular dental care and appointments are essential in helping minimize tooth loss.

More on Tooth Loss.

Gum Disease

Another common dental issue for older adults is gum disease or periodontitis. Gum disease is chronic inflammation of the gums. It’s caused by bacteria that’s trapped between the teeth and gums. Gum disease is hard to detect at first, since it often doesn’t cause pain. Left untreated, however, periodontitis worsens as gums pull away from the teeth, creating open pockets that can trap food and plaque. This exposes teeth to bacteria, which perpetuates more tooth decay.

Arthritis and poor hand-eye coordination or vision are other factors that can make it more difficult for older adults to keep their teeth and gums clean. However, frequent trips to the dentist can break this cycle and get teeth and gums back on track.

More Gum Disease.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancers typically affect older adults. The average age of people diagnosed with mouth, throat, or tongue cancer is sixty-two.

Regular dental check-ups are vital for catching oral cancer in its early stages. Your dentist at your check-up will look for any tell-tale signs of cancer, including sores, changes to the lining of the mouth or lips, and any white or reddish patches.

More on Oral Cancer.

Affiliated Dentists

If you have any of the above dental concerns, you should certainly get screened. If you wish to make an appointment, please call our office today. Affiliated Dentists offers dental implants and general and reconstructive dental services in Madison, Wisconsin.

What are Dental Concerns for Older Adults? brought to you by:
Mark Gustavson DDS, Madison Dentist

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