As we age, our oral health often requires more attention and care. Identifying common dental issues in the elderly is crucial for maintaining overall well-being and quality of life. From tooth erosion caused by acidic foods and drinks to the challenges posed by dry mouth, these issues can significantly impact daily activities like eating and speaking.

One prevalent problem is tooth surface loss due to erosion, which can lead to shortened teeth and complicate oral rehabilitation. Additionally, medications that decrease salivary flow can exacerbate conditions like xerostomia, making it vital for us to provide tailored oral hygiene instructions and dietary advice. By recognizing these common dental issues early, we can take proactive steps to ensure our elderly loved ones maintain their oral health and enjoy a better quality of life.

Overview of Dental Health in the Elderly

Key Changes in Oral Health With Aging

Aging brings distinct changes in oral health. Teeth can become more prone to cavities and decay due to enamel deterioration. Gums tend to recede, exposing the root surfaces to potential decay and sensitivity. Salivary flow often decreases, leading to dry mouth or xerostomia, which heightens the risk of dental caries and gum disease. Patients’ habits of consuming acidic food and drinks can exacerbate tooth erosion. Shortened anterior teeth may result from the loss of tooth surface, complicating oral rehabilitation efforts.

How These Changes Impact Daily Life

Daily life is significantly impacted by these oral health changes. Reduced salivary flow can make chewing and swallowing more difficult, affecting nutritional intake. Tooth sensitivity and decay can lead to discomfort when eating hot or cold foods. Reduced crown height due to tooth erosion can complicate fitting and using dentures, which impacts speech and mastication. Elderly individuals may also experience low self-esteem and social withdrawal due to aesthetic concerns as anterior teeth shorten.

Regular dental checkups are essential to identify early signs of oral diseases like cancer and to manage these changes effectively. Tailored oral hygiene instruction, dietary advice, and regular fluoride applications play crucial roles in maintaining an elderly individual’s oral health. Medications such as pilocarpine and cevimeline might be necessary for symptom relief, particularly for patients with conditions like Sjögren’s syndrome.

Common Dental Problems in the Elderly

Tooth Decay and Loss

Tooth decay, also called dental caries, is prevalent among older adults. Statistics show that 96% of Americans over 65 have experienced cavities, and 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay. As we age, factors like reduced salivary flow, which leads to dry mouth, make us more susceptible to dental caries. Receding gums further expose roots, heightening the risk of decay. Untreated decay can result in infection, pain, inflammation, and ultimately tooth loss. Dentures then become a necessity for many, impacting nutrition since people wearing dentures often prefer softer foods over fresh fruits and vegetables. Regular dental checkups are essential to catch and treat decay early.

Gum Diseases

Gum disease, known as periodontal disease, is another common concern. It manifests as gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) or periodontitis (damage to the soft tissue and bone supporting teeth). In seniors, conditions such as dry mouth and poor oral hygiene exacerbate gum disease. It is also linked to systemic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Symptoms include gum recession, which exposes roots and increases susceptibility to decay. Chronic inflammation can lead to tooth loss, making dentures or implants necessary. However, ill-fitting dentures can cause additional oral health issues. Routine dental care helps manage and prevent the progression of gum disease, thereby preserving oral health and overall well-being.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer becomes more prevalent in older adults, especially for those using tobacco products. Tobacco and alcohol are estimated to cause up to 75% of all oral cancer cases. Most oral and oropharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas originating from the lining of the oral mucosa. These cancers frequently appear on the lateral borders of the tongue, lips, and the floor of the mouth.

Early stages of oral cancer are often asymptomatic, making it crucial to visit the dentist regularly for screening. During a screening, a dentist may ask you to swish a dye in your mouth that reacts with cancerous cells, causing them to illuminate under a screening light. This procedure is painless and significantly aids in early detection, which offers a better prognosis.

Precancerous lesions and early oral cancer can manifest as subtle changes, such as a white or red-colored patch, which may progress to ulceration and eventually become endophytic or exophytic masses. If any white or red lesion persists for longer than two weeks, a referral to a subspecialist is necessary for a thorough evaluation.

Statistics suggest that 15% of patients diagnosed with oral cancer will develop another cancer in a nearby area like the larynx, esophagus, or lungs. Treatment for oral cancer is guided by clinical staging, emphasizing the importance of early detection.

To prevent oral cancer, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake is essential. Maintaining a good diet and proper hydration also helps. Regular visits to the dentist remain the most crucial aspect of prevention and early intervention. By understanding the risks and staying proactive about oral health, we can better protect ourselves from the serious implications of oral cancer.

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when salivary glands underproduce saliva. This condition affects 29% to 57% of older individuals. Saliva plays a crucial role in oral health, protecting teeth from harmful bacteria and promoting remineralization. Without adequate saliva, the risk of cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease rises significantly.


Several factors contribute to dry mouth:

  • Medications: Many common medications, including antihistamines, diuretics, and antidepressants, cause dry mouth as a side effect.
  • Health Conditions: Conditions like diabetes and Parkinson’s disease can affect salivary gland function.
  • Cancer Treatments: Radiation and chemotherapy can damage salivary glands, leading to reduced saliva production.


Dry mouth manifests through various symptoms:

  • Constant dry or sticky feeling in the mouth.
  • A burning sensation.
  • Changes in taste.
  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking.

Impact on Oral Health

The lack of saliva leads to multiple oral health issues:

  • Increased Risk of Decay: Saliva neutralizes acids produced by bacteria. Without it, enamel erosion accelerates.
  • Gum Disease: Reduced saliva flow makes it harder to wash away food particles, increasing the likelihood of gum disease.
  • Infections: Lack of saliva increases the risk of fungal and bacterial infections in the mouth.


Managing dry mouth involves several strategies:

  • Staying Hydrated: Drinking water frequently helps alleviate dry mouth symptoms.
  • Using Saliva Substitutes: Over-the-counter saliva substitutes can mimic the natural production of saliva.
  • Avoiding Tobacco and Alcohol: These substances exacerbate dry mouth conditions.
  • Stimulating Saliva Production: Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies can help stimulate saliva production.

When to Seek Help

If you’ve noticed a persistent dry or sticky feeling in your mouth that isn’t relieved by drinking water, it’s essential to consult your dentist. Professional advice can guide you towards effective treatment options tailored to your specific needs.

Prevention and Management Strategies

Daily Oral Hygiene Practices

Maintaining daily oral hygiene is vital for elderly dental health. Brushing teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste helps prevent cavities and gum disease. Using an electric toothbrush can improve plaque removal, especially for those with limited dexterity. Flossing daily removes food particles and plaque from between teeth and below the gum line, reducing the risk of periodontal disease.

Incorporating mouth rinses with antibacterial properties can further protect against infections. For those with xerostomia, saliva substitutes or hydrating mouthwashes can alleviate dryness and improve comfort. Drinking water frequently and avoiding acidic or sugary foods and beverages helps prevent erosion and cavities. Caregivers should receive training in oral hygiene practices to assist frail elders who might struggle to care for their teeth independently.

Professional Dental Care and Regular Check-Ups

Regular dental visits are essential for monitoring and addressing dental issues early. Elderly individuals should schedule dental check-ups every six months, or more frequently if they have existing dental problems or systemic conditions affecting oral health. Professional cleanings remove calculus and plaque that regular brushing and flossing can’t eliminate, reducing the risk of cavities and periodontal disease.

Dentists and dental hygienists provide tailored advice on maintaining oral health based on individual needs. They might recommend treatments such as professional fluoride applications to strengthen enamel and prevent decay. For patients with dry mouth, dentists can suggest dietary adjustments and prescribe saliva stimulants like cevimeline to improve salivary flow.

Outreach dental programs can support elderly individuals in long-term care facilities by providing accessible dental care. These programs often include preventative care services to maintain oral health and prevent deterioration.

Use of Denture Adhesives

For denture wearers, especially those with xerostomia, denture adhesives can enhance comfort and function. These adhesives swell and become viscous in contact with saliva or water, filling spaces between the denture base and oral mucosa. This improves retention, bite force, and masticatory performance, ensuring better overall oral health for denture users.

Vineyard Heights Dental Utah

In addressing dental issues in the elderly, it’s vital to focus on tailored care. At Vineyard Heights Dental Utah, we emphasize prevention and prompt treatment to manage conditions like enamel deterioration, gum recession, and dry mouth. Our approach includes comprehensive exams, personalized treatment plans, and patient education.

Comprehensive Exams

We conduct thorough dental examinations to identify problems early. These exams often include:

  • X-rays to detect issues not visible during a regular check-up.
  • Periodontal Assessments to evaluate gum health.
  • Oral Cancer Screenings to catch early signs of malignancy.

Personalized Treatment Plans

Every patient receives a customized treatment plan based on their specific needs. Common treatments offered at Vineyard Heights Dental Utah include:

  • Fluoride Treatments to strengthen enamel and prevent decay.
  • Scaling and Root Planing to treat gum disease.
  • Restorative Procedures like fillings, crowns, and bridges to restore function and aesthetics.

Patient Education

Educating our patients about proper oral hygiene and dietary habits is a cornerstone of our practice. Key advice includes:

  • Brushing Twice Daily with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Flossing to remove plaque between teeth.
  • Diet Modification to reduce acidic and sugary food intake.

Managing Dry Mouth

For elderly patients experiencing dry mouth, we offer several solutions:

  • Saliva Substitutes to keep the mouth moist.
  • Hydrating Mouthwashes to combat dryness.
  • Medications like cevimeline and pilocarpine to stimulate saliva production.

Denture Care

Proper denture care is essential for comfort and oral health:

  • Denture Adhesives to improve fit and function.
  • Regular Cleanings to prevent infections and maintain hygiene.
  • Adjustments and Replacements as needed to ensure comfort.

Regular Check-Ups

We stress the importance of biannual check-ups. Regular visits help monitor oral health, adjust treatment plans, and prevent minor issues from becoming major problems.

Vineyard Heights Dental Utah offers a comprehensive approach to managing dental health in the elderly, ensuring they maintain their oral health, comfort, and quality of life.


Addressing dental issues in the elderly is crucial for maintaining overall health and quality of life. By prioritizing daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits we’re taking proactive steps to prevent serious complications. Our team at Vineyard Heights Dental Utah is dedicated to providing personalized care and education to help our elderly patients maintain optimal oral health. Let’s ensure our loved ones receive the attention they deserve for their dental needs.