Oral Health for Adults

The baby boomer generation will be the first where the majority will maintain their natural teeth over their entire lifetime, having benefited from water fluoridation and fluoride toothpastes.

Over the past 10 years, the number of adults missing all their natural teeth has declined from 31 percent to 25 percent for those aged 60 years and older, and from 9 percent to 5 percent for those adults between 40 and 59 years. However, 5 percent means a surprising 1 out of 20 middle-aged adults are missing all their teeth.

Over 40 percent of poor adults (20 years and older) have at least one untreated decayed tooth compared to 16 percent of non-poor adults.

Toothaches are the most common pain of the mouth or face reported by adults. This pain can interfere with vital functions such as eating, swallowing, and talking. Almost 1 of every 4 adults reported some form of facial pain in the past 6 months.

Most adults show signs of gum disease. Severe gum disease affects about 14 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 years.

Signs and symptoms of soft tissue diseases such as cold sores are common in adults and affect about 19 percent of those aged 25 to 44 years.

Chronic disabling diseases such as jaw joint diseases (TMD), diabetes, and osteoporosis affect millions of Americans and compromise oral health and functioning.

Women report certain painful mouth and facial conditions (TMD disorders, migraine headaches, and burning mouth syndrome) more often than men.

Every year more than 400,000 cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy suffer from oral problems such as painful mouth ulcers, impaired taste, and dry mouth.

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.

Employed adults lose more than 164 million hours of work each year due to oral health problems or dental visits. Customer service industry employees lose 2 to 4 times more work hours than executives or professional workers.

For every adult 19 years or older without medical insurance, there are three without dental insurance.

Seventy percent of adults reported visiting a dentist in the past 12 months. Those with incomes at or above the poverty level are much more likely to report a visit to a dentist in the past 12 months as those with lower incomes.

What You Can Do to Maintain Good Oral Health

  • Drink fluoridated water and use a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride’s protection against tooth decay works at all ages.
  • Take care of your teeth and gums. Thorough tooth brushing and flossing to reduce dental plaque can prevent gingivitis—the mildest form of gum disease.
  • Avoid tobacco. In addition to the general health risks posed by tobacco, smokers have 4 times the risk of developing gum disease compared to non-smokers. Tobacco use in any form—cigarette, pipes, and smokeless (spit) tobacco—increases the risk for gum disease, oral and throat cancers, and oral fungal infection (candidiasis). Spit tobacco containing sugar increases the risk of tooth decay.
  • Limit alcohol. Heavy use of alcohol is also a risk factor for oral and throat cancers. When used alone, alcohol and tobacco are risk factors for oral cancers, but when used in combination the effects of alcohol and tobacco are even greater.
  • Eat wisely. Adults should avoid snacks full of sugars and starches. Limit the number of snacks eaten throughout the day. The recommended five-a-day helping of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables stimulates salivary flow to aid remineralization of tooth surfaces with early stages of tooth decay.
  • Visit the dentist regularly. Check-ups can detect early signs of oral health problems and can lead to treatments that will prevent further damage, and in some cases, reverse the problem. Professional tooth cleaning (prophylaxis) also is important for preventing oral problems, especially when self-care is difficult.
  • Diabetic patients should work to maintain control of their disease. This will help prevent the complications of diabetes, including an increased risk of gum disease.
  • If medications produce a dry mouth, ask your doctor if there are other drugs that can be substituted. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco and alcohol.
  • Have an oral health check-up before beginning cancer treatment. Radiation to the head or neck and/or chemotherapy may cause problems for your teeth and gums. Treating existing oral health problems before cancer therapy may help prevent or limit oral complications or tissue damage.

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