Adult Oral Health

Facts About Adult Oral Health

Older adults

The baby boomer generation is the first where the majority of people will keep their natural teeth over their entire lifetime. This is largely because of the benefits of water fluoridation and fluoride toothpaste. However, threats to oral health, including tooth loss, continue throughout life.

The major risks for tooth loss are cavities and gum disease that may increase with age because of problems with saliva production; receding gums that expose “softer” root surfaces to decay-causing bacteria; or difficulties flossing and brushing because of poor vision, cognitive problems, chronic disease, and physical limitations.

Although more adults are keeping their teeth, many continue to need treatment for dental problems. This need is even greater for members of some racial and ethnic groups—about 3 in 4 Hispanics and non-Hispanic Black adults have an unmet need for dental treatment, as do people with lower incomes.1 These individuals are also more likely to report having poor oral health.

In addition, some adults may have difficulty accessing dental treatment. For every adult aged 19 years or older without medical insurance, there are three who don’t have dental insurance.2

Oral health problems in adults include the following:

  • Untreated cavities. More than 1 in 4 (26%) adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay.3
    • Adults who are low-income, have less than a high school education, non-Hispanic Black, and current smokers are 2 times more likely to have untreated cavities than comparison groups.3
  • Gum disease. Nearly half (46%) of all adults aged 30 years or older show signs of gum disease; severe gum disease affects about 9% of adults.4
  • Tooth loss. If left untreated, cavities and periodontal (gum) disease lead to tooth loss. Severe tooth loss—having 8 or fewer teeth—impacts the ability to eat meats, fruits, and vegetables, and presents yet another challenge to having a healthy diet. Certain chronic conditions are associated with severe tooth loss, which can diminish quality of life and interfere with eating healthy foods.5
    • Complete tooth loss (edentulism) among adults aged 20-64 years has declined over time, but disparities exist among some population groups.6
    • The percentage of adults who have lost all their teeth remains higher (6%) among people who are low-income and current smokers, compared to about 1% among those who are higher-income or who have never smoked.3
  • Oral cancer. Oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly in people older than 55 years who smoke and are heavy drinkers.7
    • People treated for cancer who have chemotherapy may suffer from oral problems such as painful mouth ulcers, impaired taste, and dry mouth.
  • Chronic diseases. Having a chronic disease, such as arthritis, heart disease or stroke, diabetes, emphysema, hepatitis C, a liver condition, or being obese may increase an individual’s risk of having missing teeth and poor oral health.1
    • Patients with weakened immune systems, such as those infected with HIV and other medical conditions (organ transplants) and who use some medications (e.g., steroids) are at higher risk for some oral problems.2
    • Chronic disabling diseases such as jaw joint diseases (TMD), autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s Syndrome, and osteoporosis affect millions of Americans and compromise oral health and functioning, more often among women.2

Good Dental Health Is Important for Pregnant People

When you’re pregnant, you may be more prone to gum disease and cavities, which can affect your baby’s health. Follow these 3 steps to protect your teeth:

See a dentist (it’s safe!) before you deliver

Brush twice a day

Floss daily

If you have nausea, rinse your mouth with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water after you get sick. This helps wash stomach acid away and keep your tooth enamel safe.

Find out more ways to maintain your oral health?

References

1. Griffin S, Barker L, Griffin P, Cleveland J, Kohn W. Oral health needs among adults in the United States with chronic diseases. J Am Dent Assoc. 2009;140(10);1266-1274.

2. US Department of Health and Human Services. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health; 2000.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral Health Surveillance Report: Trends in Dental Caries and Sealants, Tooth Retention, and Edentulism, United States, 1999–2004 to 2011–2016. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2019.

4. Eke P, Thornton-Evans G, Wei L, Borgnakke W, Dye B, Genco R. Periodontitis in US adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2014. JADA. 2018;149(7):576-586.

5. Dye BA, Tan S, Smith V, et al. Trends in oral health status, United States, 1988–1994 and 1999–2004.  Vital Health Stat. 2007; 11(248).

6. National Cancer Institute. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program. (N.D.) SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Oral Cavity and Pharynx Cancer website.  http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/oralcav.html. Accessed July 5, 2016.

Additional Resources