Regardless of age, oral health plays a significant role in your overall well-being. A healthy smile influences everything from your ability to eat nutritious foods to feeling confident in social situations.  

However, maintaining dental health can be far more difficult as you age. Between physical limitations and financial barriers, the risk of dental issues for seniors increases significantly. For this reason, easily accessible senior dental care is essential for healthy teeth in older adults.   

The Challenges of Oral Health for Elderly Americans

Senior woman examines dental x-ray with doctor

By 2060, the number of Americans aged 65 or older is projected to reach 98 million, or 24% of the population. Dental health can be a significant challenge for this group, as many existing obstacles to good oral hygiene are exacerbated by old age.

Mobility challenges and loss of the body’s ability to self-regulate are significant factors in dental care challenges for seniors. This is a particular issue to the many Americans on Medicare, as the system does not provide dental coverage. Being economically disadvantaged, lacking insurance, or living disabled, homebound, or institutionalized also affects seniors’ ability to maintain healthy teeth. 

Oral Health Problems in Older Adults

Together with typical medical concerns associated with aging, there are numerous oral health problems common in older adults.

Untreated Tooth Decay

  • 96% of seniors have had at least one cavity, with 20% having untreated tooth decay 

Gum Disease

  • 68% of older adults have gum disease

Tooth Loss

  • 13% of adults 65-74 have complete tooth loss, with that number jumping to 26% for those 75 and older.

Chronic Disease

  • Adults with chronic diseases like diabetes and arthritis are more likely to develop gum disease. Medications can also cause dry mouth, which increases the risk of cavities. 

Dental Care Options for Older Adults

Older man examines dentures with dentist

The greatest factor in maintaining healthy teeth and mouth for older adults is access to high-quality, accessible, and affordable dental care. Penn Dental Medicine’s community-based approach ensures a supportive and professional environment, so patients can receive the care they need. 

Our office provides a wide range of care, including specialists in prosthodontics (replacing missing teeth). Due to the large percentage of elderly Americans living with untreated tooth decay or missing teeth, access to dental procedures is vital to improving quality of life. Here are a few options available to seniors to elevate their dental health and improve their quality of life. 

Dental Crowns

A crown caps a weak, damaged, or decaying tooth. It maintains the size, strength, and appearance of the tooth. This means restored function while speaking and eating. In some cases, crowns are part of a dental implant to replace a tooth that was lost or extracted. To install a crown, a doctor first surgically implants a post in the jawbone. Then, a cap is made from an impression of the damaged tooth and secured to the implant. 

Dental Bridges

While crowns are used to restore damaged teeth, bridges are used to replace missing teeth. This is done by filing down the teeth on the outer edges of loss and installing implants. From there, replacement teeth known as pontics are created for your mouth and placed on the implants. Maintaining dental hygiene is crucial when wearing a bridge to preserve gum health.

Dentures

Dentures are removable prostheses that replace missing teeth and surrounding tissue. They can be either complete (replacing all teeth) or partial (acting as a removable bridge). Complete dentures may require removing decayed or damaged teeth. They can also result in restricted function eating and speaking, so permanent options such as bridges and crowns may be preferable if possible. 

Crowns and bridges are strong but can be loosened or dislodged by chewing hard foods, ice, or other objects. Additionally, some dental diseases can weaken the bone, potentially resulting in loose implants. With proper care, implants can last a lifetime. 

However, crowns, bridges, and dentures are only part of the story. Good at-home care, nutrition, and access to professional senior dental care is necessary to maintaining oral health. That’s why Penn Dental Medicine doctors are proud to provide a host of affordable and accessible services to our community.    

Get the Dental Care You Deserve

Penn Doctors offer comprehensive senior dental care, allowing you to be confident in your smile and your oral health. Click here to learn more about all the services we offer!