By Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD

Years ago, periodontitis was the number one cause of adults losing their teeth. While detection and treatment of periodontitis have dramatically improved over the years, those treatments can be quite expensive. Yet, it’s an essential part of retaining your natural teeth later in your life and for the rest of your life. That’s why at my practice, The Toothboss in South Weymouth, we included periodontal probing as an annual part of our hygiene services several years ago.

Periodontitis is essentially plaque and tartar buildup under your gums. When the tartar buildup occurs under the gums, the bacteria within the tartar have a byproduct of acid that causes degeneration of the supporting structures of the tooth. Unfortunately, many dentists don’t include full mouth periodontal probing as part of their hygiene services. So, many cases go undetected until the condition becomes serious.

A study titled “Prevalence of Periodontitis in Adults in the United States: 2009 and 2010” estimated that 47.2 percent, or 64.7 million American adults, have mild, moderate or severe periodontitis, the more advanced form of periodontal disease. In adults 65 and older, prevalence rates increase to 70.1 percent.

More current numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aren’t much more encouraging. About 2 in 3 (68%) adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease. Nearly 1 in 5 of adults aged 65 or older have lost all their teeth. Complete tooth loss is twice as prevalent among adults aged 75 and older (26%) compared with adults aged 65-74 (13%).

Tooth loss is never good. The domino effect of losing one tooth, never mind multiple teeth, will lead to tooth movement and other teeth being lost.

Our teeth are important in the masticatory process, which is imperative in getting adequate nutrition. At the Toothboss, we see so many people with crippling gum disease lose their fight to stay healthy as they get older. The oral health/general health relationship is readily apparent when we see periodontal disease in our older population.

As a preventative step, periodontal probing is recommended at least once a year. Periodontal probing involves the dentist or dental hygienist examining six sites on each tooth. This enables the dentist to detect a problem in its earliest stages when it’s treatable with better brushing and flossing and other non-intrusive procedures.

This is why seniors sticking to regular checkups—once every six months—is even more important. Particularly if you experience any of the following symptoms between checkups:
• Chronic bad breath
• Pain while chewing food
• Soft or bleeding gums
• Wear and tear of gums and tissues supporting the teeth
• The sensitivity to cold or heat
• Receding gums
• Teeth become loose

These are serious red flags, and you should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible to alert them to your condition.

If your teeth are currently in good health, great! It’s still not a bad idea to drop a line to your dentist and inquire as to whether they include full mouth periodontal probing as part of your annual exam.