“It’s as much a problem in seniors as it is in kids,” said Judith Jones, a professor of general dentistry, health policy and health services research at Boston University.
It’s also a more persistent threat now that most aging adults keep at least some of their teeth. Just 50 years ago, more than half of people over age 65 in the United States had lost all their teeth and needed dentures, Jones said. More recent data find 15 percent of people ages 65 to 74 and 22 percent of those over 75 are toothless, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But those with teeth don’t always have healthy teeth: More than 20 percent of people over age 65 had untreated cavities in 2008, CDC says. Poor people, men and nonwhites were especially at risk.
Here are some of the factors that might be at play:
•Diet — especially sugar: Sugar is bad for your teeth whether you are 7 or 70. When you eat or drink sugar, bacteria in your mouth produce acid. That acid breaks down the protective enamel on teeth, allowing decay. Eating acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, can also damage enamel.
•Dry mouth: It’s a side effect of more than 500 medications, including many commonly used by older adults, the dental association says. “Our saliva has a cleansing, anti-cavity effect,” Boghosian said.
•Recessed gums: When you are “literally long in the tooth,” decay is more likely to reach tooth roots, Jones said.
•Delayed care: Many people lose their dental insurance when they stop working and then stop going to the dentist, Jones said.
•Cognitive and health challenges: People with dementia might forget to brush and caregivers might not take up the slack, Downey said. Lost dexterity and other physical problems inhibit dental hygiene, she said.
A TOOTH-FRIENDLY DIET FROM COSMETIC DENTIST
•Recognize sugar in all its forms. Scan labels for honey, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose and other sweets.
•Watch out for sticky foods. Dry fruit, caramels and other sticky sweets can promote decay. Even bread or crackers that stick to teeth can convert to sugar and cause trouble.
•Don’t nurse sweet drinks or candies.
•Limit acidic foods. Citrus fruits and juices count. So do sodas, even if they are sugar-free.
•Drink water, and make it fluoridated tap water when you can. Swish water around your mouth after eating sweet, sticky or acidic foods.
•Keep up your calcium intake, with milk, yogurt, cheese and leafy greens. That can help rebuild enamel….read more