More Elderly Keeping Their Natural Teeth
More Community Dental Programs and Education Needed
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 18, 2003 -- The numbers of older people retaining their
natural teeth has increased steadily over past decades, the CDC says. That
trend is likely to continue, vastly improving quality of life for seniors, the
new report shows.
But elderly Americans need greater help from community sources
for dental care, since Medicaid coverage is limited, the report says. Ethnic
minorities, people living in poverty, and those in poor general health are most
at risk of losing all their teeth in old age.
The study, published today, provides results of a nationwide
telephone survey of 50,635 adults over age 65. The survey included all 50
states, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories.
Among the findings:
- In 26 states, more than half of older adults have most of their teeth --
which means they have lost five or fewer.
- Estimates of most-tooth retention ranged from 27% in West Virginia to 64%
in Utah. In three states -- California, Colorado, and Utah -- more than 60% had
retained most teeth.
- In five states and territories -- Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia,
Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- less than 40% had retained most
- The numbers of older adults that had lost all of their natural teeth varied
from state to state. Hawaii and California had 13% missing all natural teeth;
Kentucky and West Virginia reported having more than 40% of older adults having
loss all their natural teeth.
The top five surveyed with the healthiest oral hygiene in older
Those states reporting most loss of teeth in older adults:
African-Americans living in poverty, with little formal
education, were most likely not to get treatment for cavities or more
serious dental problems, the CDC report shows.
Surveys have shown that Mexican-Americans also have high rates
of untreated cavities. Lack of education about dental care and little access to
dental care likely play a role in those communities, the report explains.
Smoking Hard on Gums
Smokers have lowest rates of tooth retention, which might be
related directly to adverse effects of cigarette smoking. Nearly half the cases
of gum disease in this country are related to smoking.
While many aging adults have retained their natural teeth,
those in poor health need more help keeping their teeth, the report says. They
have lost dexterity, mobility, and tolerance for stress -- all of which
compromise their ability to take care of their teeth, visit the dentist, or
tolerate dental treatment.
Community water fluoridation provides the most effective and
cost-effective method for preventing cavities. But paying for dental care is an
issue for many elderly people. Most elderly people lose dental insurance when
they retire. And Medicaid provides only limited coverage of dental services in
More community-based dental programs are needed to help elderly
people take care of their teeth, the CDC report concludes.