Dental Care - Factors Associated With Tooth Loss
Factors associated with tooth loss
Although trauma, tooth decay, gum disease, and aging are associated with tooth loss, most older adults in the United States lose teeth from gum disease, not through aging. Factors specifically related to the older adult that may facilitate tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss include lack of preventive dentistry in childhood and adolescence; limited access to dental care; lack of financial resources or dental insurance; low level of dental education; multiple medical conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, stroke, Parkinson's disease, and cognitive disorders; and residence in a nursing home or long-term care facility.
Many preventive dental measures designed to maintain teeth for a lifetime were not available or accessible to today's older adults. Regular visits to the dentist, oral hygiene instruction, and the use of fluoride are commonplace today. These measures are the basis of dental awareness and education, and foster willingness to invest in programs that will prevent dental disease. Lack of dental insurance programs for the older adult and limited financial resources also may negatively impact oral health. Research with seventy-five-year-olds indicates, however, that age alone is not a good predictor of self-perceived dental needs and dental care utilization (Wilson and Branch). Rather than income or level of education, the presence of teeth appears to be the most powerful predictor of perceived dental need (Branch et al.).
The presence of multiple medical conditions in the older adult usually necessitates prescription drugs in addition to over-the-counter preparations the individual may already be taking. The potential for adverse drug interactions and side effects increases to 50 percent when five drugs are administered (Sloan). A common side effect of multiple medications in the older adult is xerostomia, or dry mouth (Paunovich et al.). Older adults with dry mouth often complain of mouth soreness, burning tongue, difficult chewing, problems with swallowing, and discomfort when wearing complete dentures (Felder et al.).
Research studies have proposed links between systemic illness and oral health status. Relevant to the issue of gum disease with resulting tooth loss are two studies that have investigated type II (adult onset) diabetes. One study suggests that individuals with poorly controlled blood sugar are at significantly greater risk for severe, progressive gum disease than are those with controlled blood sugar (Taylor et al.). A clinical study aimed at controlling blood sugar levels by treating gum disease has shown that standard gum disease treatments can result in significant blood sugar reductions (Grossi et al.). These studies are encouraging in view of the fact that type II diabetes and tooth loss to gum disease are common among older adults. Proper medical control of adult onset diabetes and proper dental control of gum disease help to prevent the loss of permanent teeth.
If permanent teeth are neglected as a result of poor, inadequate, or no oral hygiene procedures such as brushing and cleaning between the teeth, the oral health of the individual may be placed at risk. Bacteria within the mouth can initiate the disease processes responsible for tooth decay and gum disease. Daily removal of bacteria is essential to the health of the mouth. The frail older adult may not have enough strength to perform adequate oral hygiene. Individuals with cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer's disease often forget to perform basic oral hygiene. Older adults recovering from stroke may have paralysis of the dominant hand and be incapable of daily oral hygiene. Toothbrushing and other oral hygiene techniques can be very difficult to perform for older adults suffering from osteoarthritis, and Parkinson's disease. Hand and finger deformities common with osteoarthritis, and lack of muscle control in Parkinson's disease, may prevent these individuals from performing tasks often taken for granted.
Studies of residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes suggest that they experience significant dental decay, bleeding of the gums, loose and uncomfortable complete dentures, and soft tissue sores attributed to wearing dentures (Weyant et al.; Kiyak et al.). In a study of 263 elderly subjects, 74 percent experienced difficult chewing, 72 percent reported oral discomfort, 54 percent reported functional dental handicaps, and 22 percent complained of oral pain (Lester et al.). Residents in assisted living facilities also appear to have more oral health problems.