According to the U.S. Census Bureau, our country will hit a new milestone in 2035. This means older adults (and their aging teeth) will represent almost half of the population. In 2035 “older adults will edge out children in population size: People age 65 and over are expected to number 78.0 million, while children under age 18 will number 76.7 million.”
The Graying of America
There was a time when the phrase, The Greying of America, would conjure up the image of a geriatric, sedentary population. But monumental changes in medical care and the huge increase in lifespan have rewritten the script for life well into age 60 and beyond. That first envelope from AARP that you get on your 55th birthday is no longer the beginning of a 10-year march to retirement. Jobs that are satisfying and vigorous recreational pursuits are no longer just for the young – they’re for the young-at-heart.
However, our work hard/play hard aging population is often so busy being busy that we fail to take time to take care of ourselves. It’s backward – the need for self-care and general physical maintenance actually becomes more significant with age.
For example, simple movements you took for granted, like bending down to pick up a dropped coin, tie your shoe, retrieve a golf ball, etc. are suddenly not as fluid as they once were. An aging body is not as flexible, regenerative, or resilient as a young one. It requires more attention and maintenance – just like a car!
What Do Teeth Have To Do With It?
For aging teeth, a healthy dentition* is essential to maintain good health. Without it, you can’t chew your food correctly, digest it, or obtain its full nutritional value. And, chewing is the first step of the entire digestive process. Missing or loose teeth make it difficult to mechanically break down food, especially unprocessed foods such as raw vegetables, whole grains, and some fruits. (Try biting into an apple without strong front teeth, and you’ll see what I mean.)
In addition, poorly-chewed food not only deprives your body of its nutrients, but puts you at risk for digestive issues. Inefficient chewing is a major cause of indigestion. If you have a pre-existing condition, (such as diverticulosis, gastric ulcers, or IBS irritable bowel syndrome) poor chewing can make it worse.
Biting off more than you can chew is one thing, but not being able to chew your food well can, over time, lead to serious health conditions. Even malnutrition and vitamin deficiency are linked to poor dentition.
Other significant health risks related to poor dental health are untreated periodontal disease, which increases the risks of heart disease, atherosclerotic disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic dental infections can and do raise the number of circulating bacteria in your bloodstream, which could pose a threat to an artificial heart valve or prosthetic joint replacement.
Sadly, a large percentage of Americans are missing at least some of their teeth, and 19% of adults 65 and older have no teeth at all!
According to the American Dental Association, 42% of Americans don’t see a dentist as often as they would like. And, while 85% of Americans understand that oral health is essential to their overall health, only 25% of them are satisfied with the health of their mouth, teeth, and gums.
Statistics demonstrate the less-than-stellar state of dental health in the U.S. But, the one statistic that jumps out at me is that nearly half of American adults over the age of 39 have periodontal/gum disease. (as reported by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention).
Despite the well-documented and published facts, most people, including older adults with their aging teeth, do not seek regular dental care as often as they should
Why not? Millions of Americans don’t seek dental care due to the cost, lack of access, or fear. Even affluent people often don’t see the dentist as often as they should and don’t realize they have early gum disease or small cavities that, left untreated, will likely end up being huge (and expensive) problems.
Your Aging Teeth
Today, the practice of dentistry has reached levels that even I couldn’t have imagined when I was in dental school. Advances in cosmetic dentistry, implant dentistry, dental technology, pain control, early disease detection, and exquisitely beautiful dental ceramics have revolutionized the delivery of dental care. Most modern dentists are very sympathetic to patients who have Dental Phobia, too. (Dental Phobia is real! Read: Dental Phobia – Why Are You Afraid To Go To The Dentist?)
When you combine extraordinary dental advances with our greying population determined to enjoy a full, productive, and robust quality of life, your dentist can virtually turn back the dental hands of time. So, give your aging teeth the care you give the rest of you. Stop procrastinating and see your dentist so you can continue to take a big bite out of life!
Thanks for reading!
*Dentition is “the character of a set of teeth, especially with regard to their number, kind, and arrangement.” Source: Merriam Webster Dictionary .
Michael Sinkin practices cosmetic, implant, and restorative dentistry in New York City. He is known for the wonderful care he provides to his patients, and for his wicked sense of humor! To contact Dr. Sinkin, click here.