According to a report released in May by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of toothlessness among the nation’s elderly has dropped dramatically. This means that senior dental care is changing from a dentures-focused care to focus more and more on maintaining and retaining the remaining teeth.

A Fast Decline in Edentulous Rates

Complete dentures used to be considered normal for elderly adults, but the CDC’s recent figures show that a relatively small number of adults need them these days, and that number is shrinking rapidly. In 2011-2012, the CDC report shows that toothlessness among seniors age 65 and over dropped to just 18.6%. That’s a significant decline from 2005-2008, when 23% of seniors had no teeth, and 1988-1994, when 35% of seniors had no teeth.

But what’s even more striking is just how incredibly low toothlessness is among the younger seniors. Just 13.0% of seniors age 65-74 had no teeth. The CDC didn’t publish a corresponding figure for 2005-2008, but in 1999-2004, 24% of seniors age 65-74 had no teeth. In under a decade, we cut the rate of edentulousness in half for this age group.

With such dramatic declines, it’s easy to believe that we could be looking at the near eradication of toothlessness for people who are today in their 20s.

Disparities Persist

But there are other problems we will have to combat if we want to see edentulism eliminated. Racial disparities are striking when it comes to toothlessness. Non-hispanic blacks and non-hispanic Asians lag behind the general population with edentulism rates of 29.2% and 24.2% respectively. The racial group with the lowest rate of edentulism is Hispanics with just 14.9%, followed by non-hispanic whites at 16.9%. Particularly striking is that blacks have seen a much smaller drop in toothlessness. The rate of toothlessness dropped just 3% — from 32.8% — between 2004 and 2012.

Another major disparity was glossed over by the recent report. Class is always a major divide when it comes to edentulism. In 1999-2004, those below the federal poverty level had a toothlessness rate of 44%, compared to just 17% for those whose income was more than 200% of the federal poverty level.

Care Needs Continue

It’s important to understand that even with decreasing toothlessness, seniors continue to have significant oral care needs. About 96% of seniors had some oral decay, including about 19% that had untreated decay. Tooth-colored fillings and dental crowns will continue to help seniors maintain their oral health.

In addition, seniors will continue to benefit from dental implants, since two-thirds of them had lost at least one tooth, according to the report.

As the care needs for seniors continue to evolve, so will we. If you are a senior looking for a Philadelphia dentist, please call (610) 272-0828 for an appointment at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell.