Help Your Teeth Age Gracefully with You

Advances in medical technology, public health, personal health knowledge and greater access to health insurance are some of the key factors helping people in the U.S. today live longer and in better health than previous generations. The most recent data indicate that life expectancy from birth is at an all-time high of nearly 78 years, with women at 80.5 and men at 75.5 years.1

Improvements in oral health are also significant, and adults 65 and older are keeping more of their natural teeth for their entire lives than previous generations. During National Healthy Aging Month, Delta Dental is advising older adults that practicing good oral health habits is more important than ever.

The popular idiom “long in the tooth” references how gums wear away in the aging process, leaving the root of the tooth exposed. The tooth root is much softer and more prone to dental decay than the enamel that covers the tooth crown. Dental disease is cumulative over a lifetime, so almost all adults ages 65 and older have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.2 Older adults who take any one of several hundred medications that can cause a decrease in saliva should be especially careful because a lack of saliva brings a much higher risk for tooth decay.

Smart dental hygiene is important even for those seniors who have lost their regular teeth. Besides helping ensure dentures and other prosthetic replacements fit properly, dentists can catch life-threatening diseases like oral cancer early when they are at a more treatable stage.

Studies show that individuals with dental insurance are far less likely to have unmet dental needs than those with insurance, and are also more likely to get regular dental exams.3 However, once individuals retire they often neglect to purchase ongoing dental coverage. Medicare does not provide dental coverage but individual plans are available for purchase. Seniors can also check to see if membership in any national organizations or associations qualifies them to purchase dental benefits.

1 The 2012 Statistical Abstract.. The National Data Book. Data Source: U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2008, Vol. 59, No. 2, December 2010. Accessed August 27, 2012 at:

2 “Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Seniors (Age 65 and Over).” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Accessed August, 2012.

3 Bloom B, Simile CM, Adams PF, Cohen RA. Oral health status and access to oral health care for U.S. adults aged 18–64: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(253). 2012.