Common Oral Health Problems Among the Elderly

The National Institute on Aging ranks the dramatic increase in average life expectancy during the 20th century as among our most significant achievements.

With that increased life expectancy comes a unique set of oral health problems that senior citizens might face. One way to keep your teeth healthy as you age is to maintain routine checkups with your dentist. San Francisco cosmetic dentist Dr. Robert Walley describes several conditions that are more prevalent among older Americans.


Xerostomia is the technical term for dry mouth and this condition has a variety of causes, but aging isn’t one of them. Instead, it is caused by more than 500 medications that many adults must take for allergies, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety, depression and other conditions as they get older. Other causes include medical conditions, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, nerve damage, dehydration and use of tobacco products.

Dry mouth makes you more susceptible to gum disease, cavities and oral infections.

Recurrent Caries

This is tooth decay that happens at the site of existing fillings and dental restorations. Older people tend to have more fillings than younger people, which makes them more prone to recurrent caries.

Root Surface Caries

As its name implies, root surface caries is decay that happens to the root surfaces of your teeth at or below the gum line. This problem is more common in aging adults because as they age, their gums begin to recede, which makes them more prone to this form of decay. Another cause of root surface caries is medications that reduce saliva flow and cause xerostomia.

Periodontal Disease

About half of all adults ages 30 and older have periodontal disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An astounding 70 percent of senior citizens ages 65 and older have it. This chronic inflammatory disease causes gum recession, bone loss and can lead to tooth loss as well. It also has been connected to numerous systemic health issues such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even rheumatoid arthritis.

Mouth Cancer

The average age of people diagnosed with tongue, throat and mouth cancer is 62, and your risk of oral cancer increases with age. Lifestyle choices remain the biggest cause, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation

Oral Hygiene Difficulty

Flossing and brushing can become a bigger challenge as you age and you lose dexterity. Fortunately, there are ways of combatting this. Electric toothbrushes, toothbrushes with larger handles and floss picks are a few tools that can make routine oral care a bit easier between professional dental cleanings.

Combatting the Oral Health Effects of Aging

The key to keeping your teeth and gums healthy as you age is maintaining your routine dental exams. Be sure to tell Dr. Walley about your medical conditions and the medications you take. Let’s work together to keep your smile looking its best .