Adult Risk of Dental Caries and Gum Disease

Jamie J. Alexander on August 28, 2015

Despite highly effective means to diagnose dental caries, assess risk, manage oral bacteria, and restore teeth to strong function, the recently released results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 2011-2012 indicates that approximately 91% of adult Americans between the ages of 20 and 64 years have dental caries. The periodic NHANES survey is co-sponsored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research, and is a trusted source of information.

Why are adults at risk?

The reasons are likely rooted in aging. As we age, gum tissue recedes (pulls away from the teeth). This recession can expose tooth roots to plaque. Tooth roots are covered with cementum, which is softer than enamel, making exposed roots susceptible to decay and more sensitive to hot and cold foods and beverages. The American Dental Association has reported that the majority of people over age 50 have some tooth root decay.

In addition, most adults have fillings, and over the years, the fillings may weaken, fracture and leak around the margins. Bacteria can stick in very small crevices resulting in acid build up and decay. Crown restorations also have margins that can collect bacteria, resulting in greater risk for the development of plaque and in turn caries and periodontal disease.

The CDC concluded in 2012, based on NHANES 2009-2010 data, that 47 percent of the U.S. adult population aged 30 years and older have mild, moderate or severe periodontitis and that nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults over age 65 have moderate to severe forms of periodontal disease.

Additional factors

In addition to increased susceptibility caused by gum recession around crown margins, another factor is that, as adults age, their oral and systemic health issues become more complex. Chronic inflammatory conditions such as periodontitis are exacerbated by inflammatory diseases elsewhere in the body, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. This means that periodontitis also exacerbates cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a large number of other systemic diseases.

Caring about your oral health is important at any age. Don’t ignore the risks and keep your regularly scheduled appointments for teeth cleaning and dental checkups. This way, we can find problems early when they are the smallest and easiest to resolve.