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Effects of Aging on the Mouth and Teeth

By

Rosalyn Sulyanto

, DMD, MS, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Boston Children's Hospital

Last full review/revision Aug 2021| Content last modified Aug 2021
Click here for the Professional Version

With aging, taste sensation may diminish. Older people may find their food tastes bland so, for more taste, they may add abundant seasonings (particularly salt, which is harmful for some people) or they may desire very hot foods, which may burn the gums.

Older people may also have disorders or take drugs that affect their ability to taste. Such disorders include

Drugs affecting taste include some drugs used to treat high blood pressure (such as captopril), high cholesterol (such as the statins), and depression.

Tooth enamel tends to wear away with aging, making the teeth vulnerable to damage and decay. Tooth loss is the major reason that older people cannot chew as well and thus may not consume enough nutrients. When older people lose their teeth, the portion of the jaw bone that held those teeth in place gradually recedes and does not maintain its previous height.

A modest decrease in saliva production occurs with age and can be decreased further by some drugs. The decrease in saliva causes dry mouth Dry Mouth Dry mouth is caused by a reduced or absent flow of saliva. This condition can cause discomfort, interfere with speech and swallowing, make wearing dentures difficult, cause bad breath (halitosis)... read more (xerostomia). The gums may get thinner and begin to recede. Dry mouth and receding gums increase the likelihood of cavities. Some experts also believe that dry mouth may make the lining of the esophagus more susceptible to injury.

Despite dry mouth and receding gums, many older people retain their teeth, especially people who do not develop cavities or periodontal disease. Older people who lose some or all of their teeth will likely need partial or full dentures Dental Appliances Teeth may be lost to a number of disorders including cavities, periodontal disease, or injury or may be removed when treatment fails. Missing teeth may cause cosmetic and speech problems and... read more and/or implants.

Periodontal disease Periodontitis Periodontitis is a severe form of gingivitis, in which the inflammation of the gums extends to the supporting structures of the tooth. Plaque and tartar build up between the teeth and gums and... read more Periodontitis is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. Periodontal disease is a destructive disease of the gums and supporting structures caused by the long-term accumulation of bacteria. It is more likely to occur in people with poor oral hygiene, in people who smoke, and in people with certain disorders, such as diabetes mellitus, poor nutrition, leukemia, or AIDS. Though rare, dental infections caused by bacteria can also lead to pockets of pus (abscesses) in the brain Abscess of the Brain A brain abscess is a pocket of pus in the brain. An abscess may form in the brain when bacteria from an infection elsewhere in the head or in the bloodstream or from a wound enter the brain... read more , cavernous sinus thrombosis Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis Cavernous sinus thrombosis is a very rare disorder in which a blood clot (thrombosis) forms in the cavernous sinus (a large vein at the base of the skull). Cavernous sinus thrombosis is usually... read more , unexplained fevers, and endocarditis Infective Endocarditis Infective endocarditis is an infection of the lining of the heart (endocardium) and usually also of the heart valves. Infective endocarditis occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and travel... read more Infective Endocarditis in people with specific severe heart abnormalities.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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Test your knowledge

Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis
Recurrent aphthous stomatitis (canker sores) is the presence of small, painful sores (ulcers) inside the mouth. The ulcers typically first appear in childhood and recur frequently throughout adulthood. Which of the following is usually the first symptom of an attack? 
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