How to Prevent Tooth Loss as You Get Older: The Shocking Truth


Oral disease is an incredibly common ailment that affects nearly 4 billion people. Most of these individuals suffer from dental cavities, and some estimations suggest that every single adult has some form of dental decay. It’s a frightening statistic, and it gets worse.

The majority only have mild dental decay, not enough to cause serious distress, but a significant percentage have lost at least one tooth, and this becomes more common with age.

Simply put, the older you are, the more likely you are to have lost teeth, and in this guide, we’ll look at the probabilities and causes of tooth loss based on age

Why the Rate of Tooth Loss Increases with Age

Tooth loss can occur at any age and the causes are numerous, including decay, trauma, and surgical intervention resulting from impacted or misshapen teeth. However, the rate of tooth loss increases with age, so what factors contribute to this sharp increase in probability?

Trauma

Trauma isn’t the biggest cause of tooth loss, but it still accounts for millions of lost and damaged teeth every year. What’s more, the damage is usually much more serious than it first appears.

A study conducted in 2010 looked at the effects of trauma on immediate and future tooth loss and made some very interesting conclusions.

The study focused on 41 patients who had suffered dentoalveolar trauma (trauma relating to the teeth and the supporting bone) before the age of 10, and it followed them beyond the age of 16. It noted that just over 7% of the total damaged teeth were lost immediately after trauma, but that this increased to over 35% up to 16 years after the trauma.

Of course, some of those teeth may have been lost anyway, but we’re talking about children here, so they would have still been young adults at the end of the study and, thus, should have maintained most of their teeth.

This over 400% increase suggests that the worst effects of dental trauma occur many years after the event.

It may be that the tooth or supporting bone has been weakened, or that the gum has been damaged to the point where it can no longer support or maintain the tooth. 

The researchers also noted that some patients had experienced a condition known as “ankylosis”, whereby the bones fuse together, and that others had experienced failed root canals or root reabsorptions.

In any case, these issues are likely to be directly related to the original trauma.

So, if you have suffered trauma to your mouth or teeth recently, you may not notice the effects until many months or even years later. It’s important, therefore, to make sure you get yourself checked over and to speak with your dentist if you notice any signs of damage, including discoloration.

As this study proved, children can and often do experience dental trauma that impacts them later in life. However, such trauma is still more common in adults and can have a similar effect, even though their mouths are no longer as temperamental and they have all of their permanent teeth.

Adults are more likely to partake in extreme sports and other potentially damaging activities. And once you consider drunken accidents, falls, car crashes, and other such unfortunate events, it’s easy to see how these risks increase with age.

Wear and Tear

Teeth are strong and have a pretty impressive lifespan under optimal conditions. But life isn’t optimal, and your teeth have to deal with a lot of stress, risk, and complications over the years.

You expose your teeth to harm every time you ate, drink, brush, and use a whitening solution, and while there are things you can do to protect them, clean them, and keep them pearly white for years to come, all that wear and tear will have an effect.

The following habits can damage your teeth and reduce their lifespan:

1. Chewing Ice

It might be calorie-free, but ice is also solid and can chip and crack your teeth. It’s something that many people do without realizing and something that is said to affect up to 4% of the general population (the rate is higher among people with anemia, and the two are thought to be linked).

2. Mouth Piercings

They might look good, but lip and tongue piercings can also harm your teeth. Every time you accidentally bite down on the metal piercing, you risk chipping your teeth. The constant rubbing could also harm your gums.

3. Bruxism

A condition characterized by nighttime teeth grinding, bruxism is surprisingly common, but many sufferers don’t know they have it. They’re often told about their problem by a partner or learn about it from their dentist when the damage has already been done. 

If your partner suggests that you might be grinding your teeth, you wake up in the night and catch yourself at it, or you find that you’re waking with teeth, gum, or head pain, you should speak with your dentist.

4. Sugary Candies

Hard candies are sugar-laden, hard-boiled treats that can chip your teeth and accelerate the rate of decay. They’re great if you have a sweet tooth, but too many will harm your teeth in the long run.

Suck, don’t chew, and try to limit your consumption. It also helps if you brush your teeth after eating, as that will remove the sugar and reduce the risk of decay.

And before you ditch the hard candies for gummy ones, remember that these can be just as bad for your teeth. The chewy, sticky, and sugary pieces become lodge in your teeth and trigger the release of harmful acids, gradually wearing down the enamel.

It’s often said that soda is much better for your teeth as it goes straight down your throat and doesn’t require chewing. That might be true, to an extent, but it’s loaded with sugar and it still has a way of lingering in your mouth and on your teeth. What’s more, it often contains citric acids and other harmful ingredients that decay and discolor your teeth.

5. Excessive Teeth Whitening

Too much teeth whitening can harm your teeth, and we’re not just talking about bleaching treatments. Whitening toothpaste contains highly abrasive compounds designed to provide a deeper and more effective scrub, thus removing more plaque. 

It’s reasonably effective, but if you use it every day and never return to fluoride toothpaste, your teeth will receive a constant barrage and will gradually erode as a result.

6. Using Your Teeth as a Tool

How many bottles have you opened with your teeth? It might be a cool party trick, but it’s also one of the worst things you can do for your dental health. And if that trick is not in your arsenal, there’s a good chance that you open paper packets, cut sticky tape, or turn tricky screw-caps using your teeth.

None of these habits are good for your teeth and all of them will increase the risk of chips and cracks.

7. GERD

Reflux disease is very common and as our diets switch to more processed foods and to habits such as binge eating, it’s becoming even more common.

If you have GERD, it means your stomach acid is escaping your stomach and causing harm to your esophagus and even your throat. The longer it is left untreated, the more damage it will do, and if that acid increases the acidity of your saliva and works its way into your mouth, it will even impact your dental health.

Your saliva is constantly fighting a battle against acidity and trying to keep a neutral balance in your mouth. If you’re constantly introducing acid to this environment, the risk of decay will increase substantially.

Decay Risk

Cavities are small holes that appear on the surface of your teeth and are caused by diet, oral bacteria, and poor dental hygiene. Not only do we tend to develop more bad habits as we age, but even the smallest of issues has a way of exacerbating and so age often brings more cavities and more problems.

If you don’t brush at least twice a day and floss at least once, you have more chances of developing cavities. Your risk also increases significantly if you have small and hard-to-reach crevices in your teeth and have a diet that is rich in sugary foods and simple carbs.

A dry mouth can also increase your risk. Your body uses saliva to neutralize acidity and protect your teeth. As a result, a chronic dry mouth, as might result from medication side effects, may lead to multiple cavities in the long term

Pregnancy

Hormonal changes can weaken the tissues that keep teeth in place, making them loose and leaving them more prone to damage and other issues. In the United States, the average age for a woman to fall pregnant with their first child is between 26 and 27, and even at this young age, they are still at risk of pregnancy-related tooth loss.

The risk increases with age and multiple pregnancies, although the birth rate in the US is just 1.73, which means a large number of women are choosing not to have children and of the ones that do, many only have 1

Medications

Medications are one of the biggest causes of dental problems in the elderly, and as we take more pills with age, it’s a major contributor to age-associated tooth loss.

Between 1988 and 2010, the average number of medications taken by seniors increased from 2 to 4, and the number of individuals taking over 5 meds also increased sharply. These medications include pain killers, blood pressure medications, sedatives, and more. 

A surprising number of these can cause dry mouth, removing all traces of saliva and taking away one of the body’s only natural protections against decay. 

Some of the worst medications for your dental health include:

  • Opiates: Prescribed for chronic pain, opiates and opioids are highly addictive and can make the user sedate and groggy. They also cause chronic dry mouth with large and regular doses, leading to everything from tooth cavities to bad breath and more.
  • Antihistamines: Designed to help with allergies, these medications can also cause dry mouth and gum problems.
  • Antihypertensives: One of the most common drugs consumed by seniors and one that may lead to gum problems.
  • Oral Syrups: Medicated syrups are often loaded with sugars to make them more palatable. Consuming these several times a day is akin to eating candy throughout the day and you should brush or rinse immediately afterward to avoid any issues.

You may also be surprised to know that asthma medications and aspirin can cause tooth decay, and it has nothing to do with dry mouth. These medications are highly acidic and if they come into contact with the teeth and gums, they can cause erosion, weakening the enamel.

If you suffer from a dry mouth and are worried about your oral health, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Drink Plenty: While regular intake of fluids won’t eradicate your dry mouth altogether, it will limit some of the damage. Proper hydration is key and becomes more important with age. Not only can dehydration harm your skin and vital organs, but it also clouds your thoughts and leads to everything from tiredness to constipation.
  • Chew Gum: Regular chewing helps to stimulate saliva production and create a natural barrier against oral bacteria and any acidity that you introduce to your mouth. Just make sure the gum is sugar-free, otherwise, you could be doing more harm than good.
  • Monitor Stomach Acidity: If you’re suffering from GERD and using medications that trigger dry mouth, you could be creating a very acidic and harmful environment in your mouth. Speak to your doctor if you suffer from regular heartburn and indigestion and they will help to keep your GERD under control.
  • Eat Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Fresh foods are mostly water and if you eat plenty of these throughout the day, you’ll get most of the water that you need. You’ll also get plenty of healthy vitamins and minerals.
  • Get Lots of Calcium and Vitamin D: Moderate sunshine, in combination with leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, and/or dairy, will keep your levels of calcium and vitamin D high. These nutrients help to promote optimal bone and teeth health.

Physiology

It’s not just about wear and tear, trauma risk, and other such issues—the act of aging alone is enough to increase your risk of developing dental problems and experiencing tooth loss.

Tooth enamel gradually erodes, the gum line recedes, and dental problems become more common. 

Seniors also suffer from dry mouth more frequently than their younger counterparts. Not only can this be caused by medications, but it also results from chronic dehydration, which becomes more common with age as the body becomes less efficient at storing and using water.

Charts on Tooth Eruption and Loss

To help you understand how tooth loss changes as you age, take a look at the following charts to understand the ages at which certain teeth appear and the average rate of tooth loss in adults.

Bear in mind that all of these are based on averages and just because your child’s teeth are late to appear, doesn’t mean you’ve missed the boat. By the same token, avoiding any kind of tooth loss by the ages listed below may suggest that you have better dental hygiene than the national average, but luck also plays a part and it doesn’t mean you’re immune to damage or loss.

Age That Baby Teeth Appear

Type of Tooth

Age of Eruption

Age of Loss

Central Incisor (Lower)

6 to 10 Months

6 to 7 Years

Central Incisor (Upper)

8 to 12 Months

6 to 7 Years

Lateral Incisor (Upper)

9 to 13 Months

7 to 8 Years

Lateral Incisor (Lower)

10 to 16 Months

7 to 8 Years

First Molar (Upper)

13 to 19 Months

9 to 11 Years

First Molar (Lower)

14 to 18 Months

9 to 11 Years

Canine (Upper)

16 to 22 Months

10 to 12 Years

Canine (Lower)

17 to 23 Months

9 to 12 Years

Second Molar (Lower)

23 to 31 Months

10 to 12 Years

Second Molar (Upper)

25 to 33 Months

10 to 12 Years

Age that Permanent Teeth Appear

Type of Tooth

Age of Eruption

Central Incisor (Lower)

6 to 7 Years

First Molar (Upper)

6 to 7 Years

First Molar (Lower)

6 to 7 Years

Central Incisor (Upper)

7 to 8 Years

Lateral Incisor (Lower)

7 to 8 Years

Lateral Incisor (Upper)

8 to 9 Years

Canine (Lower)

9 to 10 Years

First Premolar (Upper)

10 to 11 Years

First Premolar (Lower)

10 to 12 Years

Second Premolar (Upper)

10 to 12 Years

Canine (Upper)

11 to 12 Years

Second Premolar (Lower)

11 to 12 Years

Wisdom Tooth (Upper)

17 to 21 Years

Wisdom Tooth (Lower)

17 to 21 Years

Permanent Teeth Loss By Age

Age Group

Average Remaining Teeth

Percentage with No Teeth

20 to 34 Years Old

26 to 27 Teeth (5 to 6 Lost)

Under 2%

35 to 49 Years Old

25 to 26 Teeth (6 to 7 Lost)

Between 2 and 3%

50 to 64 Years Old

22 to 23 Teeth (9 to 10 Lost)

Approximately 10%

65 to 74 Years Old

19 to 20 Teeth (12 to 13 Lost)

Approximately 24%

75 and Older

18 to 19 Teeth (13 to 14 Lost)

Between 31 and 32%

Prevent Tooth Loss as you Age

As you can see, tooth loss is very common and becomes more common with age. It’s not always something you can prevent with good dental hygiene and sometimes age and bad habits will catch up with you.

But if you brush, floss, and visit the dentist regularly, you will improve your chances of keeping a full set of pearly whites long into your old age!

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