Dental implants for seniors; how old is too old?

Dental implants for seniors; how old is too old?

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In the past, NZ has had some of the highest rates in the world for toothlessness in our elderly. While these rates are dropping, this ‘edentulism’ is naturally more prevalent in older people, so more people are considering dental implants. Is age a risk factor for getting dental implants?

As people age, teeth suffer from wear and tear. Even the most religious brusher and flosser is not immune to general degradation due to aging. While technology and better oral care are making inroads into extending the life of natural teeth, more elderly people are shunning dentures and turning to dental implants. Are there risks in this?

Is edentulism a problem in NZ?

Historically, NZ has had high levels of toothlessness. In a 1976 survey, 72.3% of people aged 65 to 74 had lost all their teeth[1], far higher than our Commonwealth neighbours. NZ has improved their rates since then but in a 2012 study, 56.6% of older adults had lost all their natural teeth. Of the other adults, 43.4% had at least one tooth missing, due to cavities or periodontal disease.

Experts said that two out of every five older adults needed at least one restoration[2].



Why is having teeth so important?

As well as having an attractive appearance, teeth play two very important roles. They help us speak, and help us eat. In order to speak clearly and concisely, people need teeth, particularly the front ones. Without teeth, lisping, mumbling and whistling are common.

Of more importance is eating. Not being able to eat a full range of food limits the diet. Many adults with edentulism have problems chewing and as a result, avoided eating some foods. This can have nutritional and social consequences[1].


Dentures are not the perfect answer

There are a range of problems with dentures. Ill-fitting ones move around the mouth and can cause sores and pain. There is also the risk of them slipping, particularly when talking or eating. Even the best-fitting dentures will wear over time, and the gums recede too, making them loose.

Dentures also require care, and not all patients follow these instructions. In a 2012 survey, about half of denture wearers cleaned them twice a day, and only two thirds removed them at night[1]. This is problematic. Dental implants avoid all of these problems and offer a strong, stable, long-lasting alternative.


So are dental implants risky in older people?

There are factors that increase risk in all dental implant processes. Because of the nature of implants needing surgery and strong bones, these risk factors include:

Some of these factors may be present in elderly people but that does not rule them out entirely. In fact, elderly people may be better candidates than many, as they could be better placed to commit to the time needed to get the implants.

Are dental implants right for you?

Dental implants are a lifetime solution. They are an expensive procedure, but they give quality of life and can help to ensure a good, nutritious diet is easier to consume. If you are committed to an active lifestyle and have good general health, then dental implants are a great choice. There is no upper age limit for implants. Research suggests elderly people may require a longer healing time, and some studies have shown a higher failure rate, but this is due to a range of complications which you will need to account for[1].

Our advice is to speak to your dentist. Arrange a consultation and find out if tooth implants are right for you.