Understanding Oral Conditions

By Aldrich, Nancy | Aging Today, November/December 2005 | Go to article overview

Understanding Oral Conditions


Aldrich, Nancy, Aging Today


The most common oral conditions include the following:

Tooth Decay. Nearly one in five elders has untreated tooth decay (cavities), according to the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2002). Although dental-disease prevention programs have focused on children, as adults increasingly keep their teeth into old age and develop new decay at a higher rate than children, programs are concentrating more attention on elders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is trying to inform older adults about the benefits of fluoride, which reduces and prevents decay in people of all ages. About 100 million Americans are not served by public water systems providing fluoridated water.

Periodontal (Gum) Diseases. Gingivitis, the mildest periodontal disease, is an inflammation of the gum tissue. The result of bacterial plaque, the sticky film that forms on teeth constantly, gingivitis is best held in check with daily oral hygiene. Also, plaque left on the teeth too long forms hard deposits or tartar, which can only be removed in a dental office. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to severe periodontal disease. About onefourth of older adults have advanced periodontal disease that can lead to tooth loss, according to Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General (2000).

Toothless (Edentate) Adults. According to 1999-2002 data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, about one-fourth of older adults have lost all their natural teeth. Low-income elders are twice as likely as those with higher incomes to have lost all teeth, according to these data. …

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