Tooth Loss in Older Adults: Understanding the Causes and Consequences of Tooth Loss

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Part of our aging process is losing our teeth. Though this is an inevitable event when we reach our golden years, it’s still frustrating to think of the hassle and discomfort of being toothless. Not only that it will affect our capability to eat different varieties of food, but it may also affect our confidence in ourselves.

Fortunately, according to NCHS (National Center of Health Statistics), the number of cases among seniors has gradually decreased since the 1960s. However, it remains prevalent among low-income communities, specific races, and specific sex.

Senior citizens are usually not aware of the primary causes and of how to prevent this unwanted circumstance. That’s why in this article, I will be sharing about tooth loss among seniors, its causes, risk factors, and several prevention tips you might want to consider.

What is Tooth Loss?

As the name states, tooth loss is a situation when a person gradually loses his/her teeth affecting the ability to eat several types of food and initiate social interactions. In the latest statistics, seniors aged 75 and above are more susceptible to complete tooth loss compared to older adults aged 65 to 74.

It was also revealed that people suffering from tooth loss usually came from the less fortunate who cannot afford insurance and higher education. In terms of sex, studies showed that tooth loss is more prevalent in women than in men, especially those who came from non-Hispanic and black origins.

Causes and Risk Factors

Generally, the most common cause of tooth loss among seniors is gum disease. To be more specific, below is a list of the risk factors:

  1. Genetics: You might be surprised but yes, genetics play a role in developing gum disease. This inherited gum disease is known as gum recession, and about 30% of the population genetically inherited this disease.
  2. Periodontal Disease: This is a type of gum disease characterized by inflamed gums and swollen bones surrounding the teeth. Without urgent treatment, this condition may get worse and over time result in bleeding and tooth loss.
  3. Gum Disease: This disease is caused by accumulated plaque and food residues. It also considered the long-term effects of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and anemia. If it remains untreated, it’ll eventually lead to tooth loss.
  4. Improper Brushing: Incorrect brushing also plays a factor. Putting too much force while brushing your teeth will cause inflamed gums which will recede over time. Brushing your teeth twice daily using a soft, and fine toothbrush is enough to clean your teeth without causing damage.
  5. Tobacco Smoking: Smoking is another leading cause of gum problems that lead to tooth loss. Tobacco contains compounds that contribute to plaque build-up. As time passes, this plaque will damage the tooth enamel causing bacterial pockets to form. These bacterial pockets are responsible for gum disease and tooth decay.
  6. Crooked Teeth: People with crooked teeth will most likely get as they age. This is because since the teeth are not properly aligned, it’ll put more pressure on the gums supporting it. This condition will easily damage the gums and may lead to gum recession, and eventually tooth loss.
  7. Poor Hygiene: Brushing your teeth is one of the essential routines we do regularly to avoid cavities and other tooth problems. Not brushing your teeth at all will cause cavities and plaque build-up in the mouth, which will get worse as bacteria begin to dwell on the corners of the teeth. As the condition progresses, it will result in gum problems, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
  8. Bruxism: Also known as “teeth grinding”. It is a habit where the person unconsciously grinds his/her teeth. Though this may seem a harmless habit, consistent teeth grinding will put too much pressure on the gums and result in gum recession.

Link to Cognitive Decline

Recent studies revealed that tooth loss is linked to the increased risk of cognitive decline and other mental health problems among senior citizens. According to NIA (National Institute on Aging), seniors who have more teeth loss have higher chances of getting cognitive issues and dementia compared to those who have little to no loss of teeth.

Though researchers are still not sure how tooth loss affects brain function, some theories are made:

  • Since tooth loss causes difficulty in chewing certain foods, this may lead to nutritional deficiencies and chemical reactions that affect the brain.
  • Another theory is that a bacteria called beta-amyloid plaques develop in the brain due to gum disease and tooth loss. This is the result of poor oral hygiene, one of the leading causes of tooth loss.
  • Other factors like poor socio-economic status and low educational attainment are also believed to be the reason why tooth loss is linked to cognitive decline and dementia.

These are the reasons why prioritizing oral health is crucial not just for your comfort, but also to avoid the increased risk of other diseases particularly cognitive decline and cognitive impairments.

Oral Health Tips and Prevention

The following are several oral health tips you should do to prevent:

Get Regular Oral Check-Ups

One of the best ways to prevent tooth loss is to visit your dentist every 6 months. Your dentist will do a deep cleaning and oral exam to make sure it's free from plaques or cavities.

Communicate With Your Dentist

Maintaining good communication with your doctor helps not only to maintain a healthy mouth but also to treat mouth problems as early as possible. To do this, always tell your doctor about any problems in your mouth and follow their advice in treating the condition.

Regulate Oral Hygiene

This is the most crucial tip in preventing oral health problems. To do this, make sure to:

  • Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss your teeth once daily.
  • Gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash once daily.

Promote A Healthy Diet

Always include a lot of fruits and vegetables in your diet. To reduce your risk of tooth loss, minimize sugary foods.

Avoid Or Stop Smoking

Tobacco smoking is one of the major causes of plaque build-up in the mouth. Stop the vice through rehabilitation programs, and for non-smokers, avoid the habit as much as possible.

Final Thoughts

Tooth loss is not uncommon among senior citizens, and the prevalence is higher in older adults aged 75 and above compared to seniors at 65. Though tooth loss may not be very concerning to most people, it may still impact one’s quality of life and overall health. It may cause discomfort, nutrient deficiency, and cognitive impairments.

This is where oral health becomes very important. To reduce your risk of tooth loss make sure to visit your dentist regularly, maintain oral hygiene, promote a healthy diet, and avoid smoking. I hope this article helped you learn more about tooth loss among senior citizens.

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