Faculty Articles


Aging successfully: Oral health for a lifetime



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Journal of Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry





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Aging is a worldwide phenomena. More adults, particularly those in developed countries, are living longer and healthier lives. The average US life expectancy was 47 years in 1900; by 2000, it had increased to 74 years. As the population ages, the number of adults with acute and chronic illnesses increases. The use of medications also increases with age. People over 65 years of age make up about 12% of the US population, but they consume 30% of all prescription medications, many of which can have a negative impact on oral health. Although tooth loss is declining in US adults, the need for various types of dental services in the adult population continues to increase. Data on the use of dental services has shown that dental visits by older adults correlate with the presence of teeth, not age. Research on the epidemiology of periodontal disease in older adults suggests that the disease in older adults is probably not due to greater susceptibility but, instead, the result of cumulative disease progression over time. Data on root caries has shown that exposed root surfaces, in combination with compromised health status and the use of multiple medications, can increase an older adult's risk for root caries. Oral candidiasis commonly occurs in immunocompromised individuals of any age, but in older adults, nursing home residents are particularly susceptible. Oral cancer is a disease of older adults, with a median age of 64 at diagnosis. Tobacco and alcohol use are the most common risk factors. Mental or physical impairments, such as dementing illnesses, or impaired dexterity as a result of arthritis or stroke, can impair an adult's ability to perform adequate oral self-care. Preventing oral diseases in older adults requires an understanding of the risk factors for oral diseases and how these risk factors change over time. Of particular concern are nursing home residents, who remain the most vulnerable of elders. Incorporating preventive oral health strategies into dental treatment and nursing home care will play a critical role in maintaining oral health for a lifetime. Oral health education of family, caregivers, and nursing home staff is essential if oral diseases are to be avoided later in life.



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