Periodontal Disease – Are Seniors at Risk?

Are you long on the tooth? You don’t have to be old to be “long on the tooth”; neither does it mean you are already old if you are somewhat long on the tooth.  The proverbial way of having older people being referred to as “long on the tooth” implies that as we get older, it is predetermined that our teeth get “longer” (or become gone) or “no longer.” However this is far from truth. Loss of teeth and periodontal disease is not inevitably a part of aging. In fact anyone can be long on the tooth.

d-patient-11Loss of bone support or bonding or attachment around a tooth results mainly from bacterial infection. The part that is true about people being “long on the tooth” is that as people get older, they have more exposure to infectious microorganisms; hence they have also more probability of becoming infected with diseases and eventually developing periodontal disease. Half of older people aged 55 years old and up actually have periodontal disease.

Aside from exposure to bacteria related infections, the risk factors involved in seniors or older adults being more prone to developing periodontal diseases include:


Certain medications affect the gums and lead to periodontal infections. Heart medications particularly can have a direct effect on a person’s gums, specifically by creating an overactive response to plaque which further results to gum overgrowth. Immunosuppressants too as well as other anti-disease medications may eventually reduce our immunity’s ability to fight off infection, leading to an increased risk to periodontal diseases. Lastly, antidepressants may also produce dry mouth, hence reduces out mouth’s ability to neutralize plaque through saliva. You need to make sure that your dental care providers are aware of any current medications you are using, and also, you need to maintain a very diligent plaque control daily regimen. Also visit your dentist or dental hygienist regularly for professional check-ups and cleanings.

Dry mouth:

Not enough saliva or “dry mouth” can result from using certain medications or having a certain type of illness. If there is a lack of enough saliva available in our mouths for neutralizing plaque, the result is more cavities which lead to periodontal disease. Also, xerostomia or dry mouth may complicate the swallowing of food, chewing, and even speaking, and can make it more problematic to wear dentures. Using an oral rinse or artificial saliva can prove to be very useful in dealing with these problems. (Fluoride gels and rinses help reduce and prevent the cavities that can result from having a dry mouth.) Frequently sipping water and/or eating candy can also be helpful just as long as it doesn’t have any sugar. Remember to drink water as often as you can especially if you are feeling dehydrated, or feeling any dryness in your mouth.

Systemic diseases:

Certain systemic illnesses including diabetes may decrease a person’s ability to fight off infections which eventually leads to more severe cases of periodontal disease. Osteoporosis is another type of systemic disease and it can increase the rate and amount of bone loss around one’s teeth. Note:  If a systemic illness is a pre-existing condition, then it will affect the body’s susceptibility to periodontal disease.  To reduce the effect of a systemic disease on your oral cavity, seek the advice of your dental care provider and visit your dentist’s office regularly for routine check-ups. Stick with your professional cleaning schedule and maintain a meticulous plaque control routine at home daily. Ideally, you need to undergo prophylaxis (dental cleaning) at least twice or once a year, or every six months or every year. Also make sure to replace your toothbrush bi-annually. Remember, older adults are more at risk to osteoporosis and diabetes; hence they are also more vulnerable to periodontal disease. If you are young and have these types or any other type of systemic disease, then you are also prone to having periodontal disease.

Estrogen deficiency:

Older women, most especially, may experience several special concerns related to periodontal disease. Some studies suggest that women’s estrogen deficiency, occurring after their pre-menopause years may increase their tendency for losing teeth and their risks for having severe periodontal disease. On the other hand, estrogen replacement therapy may help reverse these dental effects. If you are already middle-aged and have just entered your menopause stage, it is highly advisable to seek medical advice to help maintain your estrogen levels, control your menopause symptoms, as well as prevent periodontal illness.

Dexterity problems:

Physical disabilities may lead to reduced dexterity and diminish one’s ability to remove plaque or tartar on a day-to-day basis. For people with poor dexterity, it gets harder day by day to brush their teeth; hence it puts them at risk for periodontal disease. Poor oral hygiene increases a person’s risks for cavities and not being able to brush your teeth and/or to floss your teeth daily places you at a greater risk for all types of dental disease. Electric toothbrushes as well as floss holders are very helpful for people with these kinds of problems. Improve plaque control with the help of these teeth cleaning aids and make sure you go to frequent professional cleanings. Also combine these with a good oral fluoride or anti-microbial rinse to help reduce your incidences of poor oral hygiene and periodontal disease.

It is highly important to maintain our teeth as we age no matter what our age.  Our teeth have an important function in our normal daily habits from chewing to eating to speaking. Our teeth also affect our appearance as well as our sense of self esteem.  Even if you are not yet old, having loose and/or missing teeth or having to wear dentures because of a certain condition and/or having poor oral health, can lead you to experience difficulties in eating, having restricted diets, poor nutrition, and developing some form or two of systemic complications.  With technological advances in modern dentistry today and with the help of current preventive and treatment methods, people both young and old can now count on maintaining a healthy set of teeth – no matter how “long on the tooth” they may be!

If you have any questions or comments please visit our websiteemail or call me at 623-572-7505.

J. Brent Sanders DDS

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