Tooth loss and ageing – not as straight forward as you think

ageing and tooth loss

There is a general feeling that as we get older, it’s simply expected that we lose our teeth. The truth is, tooth loss and ageing is a complex issue, with many different factors influencing how we lose teeth as we get older.

How our teeth can change over time

Teeth are undoubtedly tough, but like anything, after 50 years of constant use, they are going to show signs of wear and tear.

No matter how well you look after your teeth, they will inevitably be worn down by the daily biting, chewing and grinding. Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do to replace the lost enamel, but looking after your teeth can slow the loss.

Edentulism is the name given to total tooth loss in adults, and according to the International Journal of Dentistry, a quarter of people over 60 suffer from it. Edentulism is irreversible and can only be treated by getting dental implants or dentures.

As we get older, we produce less saliva, which is important for our oral health. Saliva helps fight disease by neutralising germs in your mouth, as well as helping to break down food. It helps you chew, taste and swallow, and has proteins which protect tooth enamel.

Ageing also has an adverse effect on our gums. Gum tissue naturally recedes with age, so the soft root tissue becomes exposed. In addition, adults who grew up before the advent of fluoride products often have fillings from childhood and adolescence that eventually break down.

tooth loss

How tooth loss is linked to our health

Periodontal disease is a concern for older adults, with over 70 percent of people over 65 having some form of gum disease.

There are a number of reasons for this, from the natural recession of gums, to the effects of not developing proper oral health care habits earlier in life.

Tooth loss and gum disease is also heavily influenced of course by nicotine, especially for the older generation for whom smoking was more socially acceptable.

Researchers who found that tooth loss appears to be linked to physical and mental decline in older adults, suggesting it may serve as a potential early marker of decline in older age.

A study by Dr. Poul Holm-Pedersen of the Copenhagen Gerontological Oral Health Research Centre, discovered that if elderly subjects had few or no teeth remaining, then it contributed to the speed at which they aged.

Another study in the UK suggests that everything from memory to physical dexterity was affected by tooth loss. Researchers at University College London found that elderly subjects who had lost all their natural teeth performed around 10% worse in both memory and fragility than counterparts with natural teeth.

What you can do about it

The ageing process is inevitable, but suffering from complete tooth loss isn’t.

A good oral health routine is never too late to be implemented, not matter how old you are.

Routine check-ups from your dentist and dental hygienist can help detect potential edentulism and put you on a path to keeping your teeth instead of losing them.

Brushing and flossing help prevent tooth decay, which in turn helps prevent tooth loss. It is especially important for older adults to properly clean their teeth and gums, removing dental plaque and food debris.

Elder couple brushing teeth

Never too old to visit the dentist

Older people suffer higher rates of gum disease, tooth decay, oral cancer, infections, and tooth loss.

On top of that, as we get older, we tend to pick up other health problems, such as diabetes, heart problems, and high blood pressure.

The latest research shows that poor oral health can also exacerbate these conditions, and vice versa, with certain medical conditions affecting your oral health.

Here at SDAI, we welcome older patients. We truly believe that compassion and caring, mixed with experience and innovation, can give you a stress-free dental experience.

Our team of highly-qualified doctors and friendly, dedicated staff, will ensure your visit with us, is comfortable, relaxed and stress-free, resulting in the very best in dental care Sydney has to offer.

Contact us today if you have any questions about how we can help you, or if you’d like to know more about our dental treatment plans. We’d love to hear from you.