Merck Manual

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Spotlight on Aging: Tooth Loss

Spotlight on Aging: Tooth Loss

Only a generation ago, most people expected to go through old age with false teeth or no teeth at all. This expectation has changed greatly during the last several decades. Although nearly half of people 85 or older have none of their natural teeth, the likelihood of losing teeth with aging is steadily decreasing. There are several reasons for this change: improved nutrition, better access to dental care, and better treatment for tooth decay and periodontal disease.

When teeth are lost, chewing is greatly hindered, and speaking becomes a challenge. The face looks dramatically different without the support teeth normally provide for the lips, cheeks, nose, and chin.

People who have lost some or all of their teeth can still eat, but they tend to eat soft foods. Soft foods tend to be relatively high in carbohydrates and low in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Foods that are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as meats, poultry, grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables, tend to be harder to chew. Consequently, older people who eat mainly soft foods may become undernourished.