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Healthy Tips

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FACTS ABOUT ADULT ORAL HEALTH

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.

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KEEP YOUR TEETH LONGER

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

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MAINTAIN GOOD ORAL HEALTH

You can keep your teeth for your lifetime. Here are some things you can do to maintain a healthy mouth and strong teeth. 

  • Drink fluoridated water and brush with fluoride toothpaste. 

  • Practice good oral hygiene. Brush teeth thoroughly twice a day and floss daily between the teeth to remove dental plaque. 

  • Visit your dentist at least once a year, even if you have no natural teeth or have dentures. 

  • Do not use any tobacco products. If you smoke, quit.

  • Limit alcoholic drinks.

  • If you have diabetes, work to maintain control of the disease. This will decrease risk for other complications, including gum disease. Treating gum disease may help lower your blood sugar level. 

  • If your medication causes dry mouth, ask your doctor for a different medication that may not cause this condition. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco products and alcohol. 

  • See your doctor or a dentist if you have sudden changes in taste and smell. 

  • When acting as a caregiver, help older individuals brush and floss their teeth if they are not able to perform these activities independently. 

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