Why seniors and older adults are more prone to tooth decay

Tooth decay doesn’t discriminate – it can happen to people of all ages.


Prolonged exposure to sugar is what contributes to tooth decay. Despite the commonly held belief, just because teeth have been around longer doesn’t necessarily mean they will be weaker and therefore prone to decay.


Lifestyle factors common in the older population contribute to the reasons seniors can become more susceptible to tooth decay:

  • Recession of the gums exposes the root surfaces of teeth which are not as resistant to tooth decay as enamel. Amongst other reasons, the gums can recede as a consequence of gum disease.
  • A lack of saliva causing a dry mouth – taking multiple medications can be a cause of this – and this leads to lack of protection of the teeth where the saliva is key to washing away food particles and buffering the oral environment. Common medications known to affect saliva flow are tricyclic antidepressants, antihistamines, and anticholinergics.
  • Certain medications such as syrups and lozenges may include sugars and can result in routine prolonged exposure of the teeth to sugar.
  • Heavily restored teeth (from lots of past dental treatment) can make it harder for some people to clean the surfaces of teeth.
  • Decrease in manual dexterity leading to trouble with flossing and brushing the teeth – this can include conditions such as arthritis in the hands.
  • Wearing of poorly fitting partial dentures can lead to food becoming trapped and if left for extended periods, it can affect the adjacent teeth.
  • Individuals in assisted-living facilities restricted to soft diets may have a greater exposure to purees, which can be high in sugar.


6 August 2020.