Oral Health Basics for Adults

Adult Oral Health (20-64 yrs)

Oral care is just as important for adults as it is for growing children. After age 35, people have a higher risk of losing teeth to decay or periodontal disease. Oral cancer, cavity filling breakdowns, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems are also common in adults.

“Adults between 20 and 64 years of age have an average of 25 natural teeth remaining.”

Although, baby boomers (adults who are between 55 and 75 years old), is the first generation that will keep most or all of their natural teeth throughout life. In the past, elderly people had a higher risk of tooth loss and decay because water fluoridation and fluoride toothpaste were nonexistent. Since fluoride was introduced over 70 years ago, dental caries, cavities, tooth decay, and tooth discoloration have decreased.

8 Ways to Maintain Oral Health as an Adult

Even though there is a lower risk of developing diseases with advanced dental care and fluoride, oral health should still be a high priority for adults. It is possible to keep natural teeth for a lifetime by maintaining oral care habits and receiving routine dental care twice a year. Eight common ways to reduce the chance of decay, gum disease, and cavities include:

  1. Brush teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
  2. Floss between teeth to remove dental plaque at least once a day.
  3. Visit the dentist at least twice a year for routine teeth cleanings, x-rays, and exams.
  4. Get screened for oral cancer, gum disease, and other related conditions at least once a year.
  5. Drink fluoridated water often.
  6. Don’t smoke or use tobacco products.
  7. Drink less alcohol.
  8. Some medications cause dry mouth, which occurs when the production of saliva in the mouth decreases during sleep and causes bad “morning breath.” If dry mouth is consistent, it is important to drink a lot of water and reduce alcohol, sugar, and tobacco intake.
root decay

Common Oral Health Conditions

Untreated Tooth Decay

Dental caries, also called carious lesions, is the process that results in tooth cavitation. Over time, carious lesions develop into deep cavities, which are black or dark brown in color. Cavity fillings are commonly used to fill minor dental cavities before the teeth become heavily decayed.

Although, if cavities are left untreated, more serious oral conditions or diseases may develop, such as severe decay, tooth loss, or periodontal disease. If permanent teeth become heavily decayed, they will need to be extracted and replaced with artificial teeth, such as dentures or implants.

"26 percent of adults between 20 and 64 years of age have untreated decay.”

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease (PD) is a severe form of gum disease that damages the gums, teeth, and jawbone. If left untreated, tooth loss can occur. PD may also interfere with other systems in the body, which can result in the development of other diseases and possibly death.

Diabetic individuals with severe periodontitis have a 3 times greater mortality risk than people with mild or no periodontitis. Poor pregnancy outcomes, such as low birth weight or preterm birth, can also occur if a woman has PD while she is pregnant. Up to 35 percent of all tooth extractions are due to PD.

Periodontitis is the result of poor oral hygiene, which is compounded by:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Medications
  • Age
  • Hereditary
  • Poor nutrition
  • Stress
  • Diabetes

Breakdown of Dental Fillings

Regular dental exams are crucial for many reasons, especially for catching dental filling breakdowns. Fillings, also called dental restorations, last for many years. Although, eventually all fillings need to be replaced. This is because the restorations begin to wear away from years of eating, drinking, clenching, grinding, and stress.

Fillings that have chipped, cracked, or fallen out may leave gaps in the teeth where bacteria and food particles can enter. The gaps allow for the decaying process to begin again, which can lead to tooth loss or gum disease if left untreated.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJD)

TMJD causes pain and dysfunction in the jaw and surrounding muscles that control jaw movement. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) is the most common jaw disorder that affects more than 10 million adults in America. Many people experience minor pain in the jaw throughout their lives, which is generally nothing to worry about.

Some people develop long-term symptoms that occur more frequently, which may result in a TMD diagnosis. Symptoms include earaches, headaches, pain when opening or closing the mouth, and lockjaw.

Causes of TMJD include:

  • Stress and anxiety (jaw clenching).
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding).
  • Misaligned teeth with frequent pain in the jaw muscles.
  • Jaw damage caused by injury or trauma.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joints.
  • Excessive gum chewing.

Oral Cancer

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), oral cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer in the world. Oral cancer appears as growths or sores in the mouth (cancerous lesions) that do not disappear on their own. The disease is life-threatening if it isn’t diagnosed or treated early.

Oral cancer includes cancers of the cheeks, lips, tongue, gums, the mouth’s floor, hard palate, soft palate, sinuses, and throat. It typically remains undiagnosed until the cancer cells spread to another part of the body, such as the lymph nodes of the neck. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are common treatment options, depending on the stage of cancer.

Common causes of oral cancer in adults include:

  • Smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco.
  • Family history of oral cancer.
  • Long-term, excessive alcohol use.
  • Chronic untreated dental diseases, including periodontal disease and cavities.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV).

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Resources

Cappelli, David P., and Connie C. Mobley. Prevention in Clinical Oral Health Care. Mosby Elsevier, 2008.

“Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Adults (Age 20 to 64).” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nidcr.nih.gov/research/data-statistics/dental-caries/adults.

Nazir, Muhammad Ashraf. “Prevalence of Periodontal Disease, Its Association with Systemic Diseases and Prevention.” International Journal of Health Sciences, Qassim University, 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5426403/.

Syrbu, John DDS. The Complete Pre-Dental Guide to Modern Dentistry. 2013.

“Tooth Loss in Adults (Age 20 to 64).” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nidcr.nih.gov/research/data-statistics/tooth-loss/adults.

Updated on: June 29, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
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Medically Reviewed: October 18, 2019
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Lara Coseo
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