Updated on March 6, 2024
7 min read

What Are Common Oral Health Problems in Seniors?

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Key Takeaways

  • Your dental health is at more risk as you age.
  • Various oral health problems can stem from neglecting your oral health when you’re older.
  • To prevent these issues, healthy oral hygiene practices and regular visits to the dentist are essential.
  • Senior dental care treatments such as dental implants, bridges, and dentures can also help restore your smile.

After the age of 65, new oral challenges are introduced as the body continues to age. Various conditions can affect seniors and older adults. 

On its own, active aging doesn’t pose a risk for developing oral diseases. However, poor senior dental health may also affect digestion, speech, nutrition, self-esteem, quality of life, and social mobility.

Maintaining a healthy mouth by sticking to lifelong dental care habits is crucial for seniors. 

Common Oral Health Problems in Seniors

Common conditions and diseases that affect people over 65 include:

1. Gum Disease (Periodontitis)

Gingivitis is a minor gum infection that develops into periodontal disease (PD) if left untreated for a long period of time. 

PD is a serious oral inflammatory disease that damages the gums, and jawbone. It may result in tooth loss. Around 35 percent of all tooth extractions are due to PD.

Old age is a risk factor for gum diseases, with 70% of adults 65 years and older suffering from periodontal disease.2

However, Periodontitis can also result from poor dental hygiene due to:

  • Smoking
  • Long-term use of medications
  • Neglected dental treatment
  • Poor nutrition


Symptoms of periodontal disease include:

  • Inflamed gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Gums that pull away from the teeth


Seniors with PD require specialized treatment for this disease. For example, treatment may include: 

gum disease NewMouth

2. Root Caries/Decay

Tooth root caries are cavities that form on the root surface of a tooth. They’re caused by exposure of the roots to decay-causing acids. 

The roots accumulate bacteria as the gums pull away from the teeth (typically due to periodontal disease). This is because roots are less protected than teeth since they don’t have enamel. 

Since older adults have a higher risk of developing gum disease, they’re also more prone to root decay.


Some symptoms of tooth root caries are:

  • Sharp or sudden tooth pain
  • Pain when you bite down 
  • Sensitivity to hot, cold, and sweet foods
  • Holes or dark spots in your teeth


Common treatment options for root caries or decay include:

  • Fillings
  • Tooth extractions
  • Replacement teeth, such as dental implants or bridges
cavity NewMouth

3. Bad Breath 

Bad breath is more likely to develop as people age, even if the individual practices good oral hygiene.

Some causes of bad breath are: 

  • Tobacco use
  • Poor nutrition
  • Excessive coffee or alcohol consumption
  • Medications
  • Not brushing properly
  • Dry mouth


Aside from breath that may be unpleasant, other signs can indicate the presence of bad breath. These include:

  • A white coating on the tongue
  • Dry mouth and cracked lips
  • Taste changes inside the mouth


Depending on the condition’s severity, there are many natural ways to reduce bad breath, including:

  • Chewing sugar-free gum
  • Limiting caffeine intake
  • Taking over-the-counter saliva substitutes
  • Avoiding decongestant or antihistamine medications
  • Stopping all tobacco use
  • Breathing through the nose rather than the mouth
  • Avoiding sugary foods and drinks
  • Using fluoride

4. Dry Mouth

Dry mouth occurs when the production of saliva in the mouth decreases. This condition naturally occurs during sleep, which leads to bad “morning breath.” 

Older people who sleep with open mouths or snore often are also more likely to experience dry mouth. Causes of chronic dry mouth include:

  • Prescription medications
  • Certain diseases
  • Problems with the salivary glands
  • Radiation to the head and neck (cancer treatment)


Some symptoms of chronic dry mouth include:

  • Uncomfortable feeling inside the mouth
  • Cracked or dry tongue
  • Chapped lips
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty speaking and swallowing


Home remedies are usually the first step to managing a dry mouth. They include:

  • Staying well hydrated by drinking a lot of water during the day
  • Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugar-free candies 
  • Using a humidifier, especially if you live in an area with dry air
  • Avoiding alcohol and smoking/tobacco use

In cases where home remedies aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe medicine that stimulates saliva production. This may include pilocarpine (Salagen) or cevimeline (Evoxac).

5. Discolored Teeth

Teeth stain naturally over the course of a person’s life. These surface stains are the clearest indicators of tooth discoloration

The bumps, grooves, and “holes” in teeth pick up the stains, which results in darkening, white streaks, yellowing, or discoloration.

Brown Stain on the lower part of teeth and borderline of the gums due to dental problems

Tooth color depends on an individual’s lifestyle, diet, habits, and oral care practices. Factors that may affect tooth color include:

  • Aging
  • Diseases
  • Medications
  • Tobacco use
  • Excessive fluoride use
  • Genetics
  • Hormone changes
  • Poor dental health


Discolored teeth don’t only mean your teeth turn yellow. It can also mean your teeth have grey, brown, or black spots.


Professional teeth whitening is the safest and most effective way to brighten your teeth. There are many at-home teeth whitening options, including:

6. Tooth Decay & Tooth Loss

Dental cavities left untreated for a long time may result in more serious oral conditions or diseases. This can lead to tooth decay or missing teeth.  

3D illustration of a severe tooth decay

In seniors over 65 years or older, around 20% have lost all of their teeth.3


You’ll know that your cavity is slowly turning into tooth decay when you experience the following symptoms:

  • Pain when eating and drinking
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Toothache or tooth pain that won’t go away
  • An unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • Inflammation and irritation in your teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth caused by an infection in the root canal


When teeth fall out or need to be extracted due to extreme decay or gum disease, common restorative treatment options include:

  • Dental implants
  • Dental bridges
  • Dentures

7. Oral Cancer

Oral cancer, also called mouth cancer, begins with the development of abnormal carcinoma cells. 

As a result, mouth sores that don’t disappear on their own develop. The disease is life-threatening without early diagnosis and treatment.


Unfortunately, oral cancer is usually discovered after it has spread to another part of the body, such as the lymph nodes. 

Other symptoms may include:

  • A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal
  • White or red patches inside the mouth and on the tongue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the throat, jaw, or ear that doesn’t go away


Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are common treatment options, depending on the cancer stage.

Early detection is the key to a high survival rate. So, seeing your dentist at least once a year for an oral cancer screening is crucial.

8. Stomatitis

Stomatitis is defined as inflammation of the mouth and lips. 

In particular, dentures may cause stomatitis in older adults if the artificial teeth don’t fit correctly or aren’t cleaned properly. It can also happen when the dentures grow fungus (Candida albicans) over time.


Common symptoms of stomatitis include:

  • Red patches and blisters around the mouth
  • Mouth swelling
  • Burning sensation in the mouth (oral dysaesthesia)
  • Recurring oral lesions


Here are some treatment options for stomatitis:

  • Oral rinses
  • Topical ointments
  • Anti-inflammatory medication

Common Senior Dental Care Treatments

Missing teeth is the most common outcome of seniors neglecting their oral health. As such, many senior dental care treatments focus on treatments restoring your smile.

Here are some of the most common senior dental care treatments:

Dental Implants 

After an extraction or tooth loss, an implant is commonly used to replace the permanent tooth. A dental implant, or artificial tooth root, is placed in a patient’s jawbone. In short, the implant mirrors the shape of a screw and bonds with the natural bone.

dental implant NewMouth

Dental Bridges

A dental bridge is a fixed (permanent) restoration used to replace one or more missing teeth in a patient’s dental arch. In more serious cases, multiple bridges can be positioned to provide full-mouth rehabilitation.

implant supported bridge NewMouth


When a person loses all or some of their natural teeth from tooth decay, gum disease, or an injury, dentures are placed to restore some chewing functions and esthetics.

removable denture NewMouth

How to Prevent Senior Dental Problems

Older adults are more prone to dental problems due to various factors. To prevent senior dental issues, it’s important to do the following:

  • Practice good dental health by brushing and flossing daily
  • Visit the dentist regularly, ideally twice a year
  • Improve overall health by eating fruits and vegetables rich in fiber
  • Avoid tobacco use and alcohol consumption
  • Clean dentures and other dental appliances regularly

Last updated on March 6, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on March 6, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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