According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, tooth loss is a sensitive indicator of overall dental health and access to dental care. Although the overall prevalence of partial and total tooth loss in seniors has decreased since the early 1970s, significant disparities remain in some population groups.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survery (NHANES) is an important source of information on oral health and dental care in the United States. Results of their most recent survey (1999-2004) show that white, non-Hispanic seniors aged 65-74 years have an average of 19.39 remaining teeth. Black seniors of the same age group have fewer remaining teeth (15.19).
The NHANES also breaks down the percentages of senior Americans in different minority groups who have no remaining teeth. Similar disparities exist between the percentages of white, non-Hispanic and black, non-Hispanic seniors who have no remaining teeth. The percentage of white, non-Hispanic seniors (age 56-74 years) with no remaining teeth is 26.12%. For black, non-Hispanic seniors of the same age group, the percentage is 32.81%.
This study also showed that regardless of age, smokers and those with lower incomes and less education are more likely to have fewer remaining teeth as well as no remaining teeth. This suggests that although the number of Americans with partial and total tooth loss has been declining since the 1970s, it is not declining as rapidly in certain minority groups.
Tooth loss negatively affects our quality of life by making eating, chewing, laughing and talking less enjoyable. It also negatively affects our overall health by causing us to substitute high fiber foods for high calorie, high carbohydrate foods that are softer and easier to chew.
The good news is that we now have better options for replacing missing teeth. For patients with partial or total tooth loss, dental implants can be used to support new teeth that look, feel, and function like the original teeth. With dental implants, those with missing teeth can resume a healthy diet, and can laugh, smile, and eat with confidence.