An elderly man smiling to show he's been actively preventing tooth loss in seniors

What Causes Tooth Loss in Seniors?

The idea of losing our teeth as a result of the natural aging process can be distressing for many people. After a lifetime of routine dental checkups, regular brushing, and flossing and all-around oral hygiene maintenance, tooth loss can be a bit of an upsetting surprise for many. For seniors, tooth loss is a natural occurrence that comes with the territory of aging. Of course, lifetime dental hygiene habits will play a large role in preventing tooth loss in seniors, but there are other causes of tooth loss than hygiene.

As children, we lose our teeth and proudly show our toothless grins because we know losing a “baby” tooth means we are growing up. As adults, we have 25 permanent or adult teeth. We rely on each one to serve its purpose in masticating, and the loss of any tooth can be a hardship. It can impact overall health, but also tends to weigh on our confidence. In some cases, we may even find ourselves smiling less, being less likely to laugh loudly and show our teeth, and becoming overall a bit more withdrawn. 

A smiling senior woman showing off her full set of healthy teethSome adults may lose teeth due to an accident, while for others the tooth loss is caused by gum disease, tooth decay, grinding of teeth – also known as bruxism and misaligned teeth. The practice of using braces as adults or children to align teeth and bites varies widely from culture to culture. Although braces are common for children and even adults in the United States, that is not the standard internationally. 

Preventing tooth loss in seniors is important, as it is a big area of concern for everyone’s overall health. We don’t always consider dental health as relevant to overall health, but it is intricately connected, just as mental health is connected to physical health. Perhaps many of us in the United States have divorced oral health from overall bodily health because they are treated in completely separate spheres, each often requiring its own health insurance. (Learn about dental services covered by Medicare here.)

Tooth loss causes and treatments are widely discussed simply because 27 percent of all seniors over the age of 65 have lost not one or two, but all of their teeth! Tooth enamel is one of the hardest substances your body produces, but over a lifetime it does wear down and our teeth begin the process of breaking down. This process does not happen overnight, but if preventative steps are not taken it can very easily get to the point where saving the teeth is not an option.

Preventing Tooth Loss in Seniors

As we mentioned earlier, tooth loss and oral health, in general, are tightly connected with a person’s overall health and wellbeing. Tooth loss can lead to jaw bone recession as well as malnourishment. Both of these are serious health conditions.

Earlier we mentioned gum recession as a tooth loss cause. The following causes of tooth loss are all related to gum recession.

7 Tooth Loss Causes

  1. Periodontal disease: Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that destroys gum tissue as well as the bone structure that supports your teeth and holds them in place.
  2. Genetics: Some people are genetically susceptible to gum recession – perhaps even as many as 30 percent of us are predisposed to developing gum disease.  
  3. Incorrect brushing techniques: Brushing our teeth too aggressively can be very damaging to the gum line. If we consistently brush our teeth with too much force the gum line is inflamed and over time will begin to recede. 
  4. Poor oral hygiene: If we do not brush and floss regularly, plaque, a sticky bacteria that builds up in the mouth, will slowly begin to erode the teeth’s enamel. Over time, small pockets develop where the enamel has eroded, and these pockets begin to store bacteria that accumulate. This can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, such as periodontal disease.
  5. Use of tobacco: The use of tobacco can increase the amount of plaque that builds on our teeth which will erode the tooth enamel. And as we mentioned earlier the erosion of enamel leads to bacteria pockets which cause tooth decay and gum disease. 
  6. Bruxism. More commonly referred to as teeth grinding, individuals who have a habit of grinding their teeth place excessive pressure on their gums, which eventually leads to recession.
  7. Crooked teeth: Crooked or ill-fitting teeth can put extra pressure on the gum line, which can eventually lead to gum recession.

This is a lot of information to take in and for those who are now experiencing tooth loss, we may wish it were possible to go back in time to avoid some of these causes, or to change our genetics. Unfortunately, we are not able to go back and change a lifetime of oral care, but there are some things we can do going forward to avoid further tooth loss. Consider the following senior preventative care measures for dental health.

5 Tooth Loss Treatments

  1. See your dentist every six months for a deep clean of your teeth to remove all lingering plaque.
  2. Work with your doctor to address any problems areas with your teeth – be sure to take their advice and recommendations when you are able. 
  3. Elevate your daily oral hygiene routine. Brushing twice a day is an absolute must. We should also be flossing and rinsing with an anti-plaque mouthwash.
  4. Maintain a healthy diet and avoid excess sugar
  5. Avoid substance use that can be harmful to your oral health, such as chewing or smoking tobacco.

Cano Health is committed to preventing tooth loss in seniors. We know how important your teeth are to your overall health and to your sense of self. We want you to smile proudly! Contact us to schedule an appointment with our top-notch dental team.