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Why do centenarians have such good teeth?

It seems people are constantly looking for the key to a longer life. In some cases this might mean opting for a fad diet, or avoiding dangerous activities like rock climbing. However, new research seems to suggest that one way to reach triple figures is to keep your teeth clean and healthy.

This follows new research from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society that found centenarians – people who have managed to make it to 100 years old – generally had better teeth than those born at the same time, but who did not make it to a full century. This suggests, but doesn’t prove, that good oral health contributes to a long life.

One of the findings, for example, was that 46 per cent of those born between 1900 and 1909 had no teeth left when they were 65-74 years old. By the time this age group got to 100, the proportion without teeth had dropped to 36 per cent, suggesting that those with better teeth were living longer.

Non-communicable diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease are major problems for the elderly, especially when research suggesting they can lead to more serious issues such as heart attacks, strokes or oral cancer is considered.

Dentists should be aware of the specific oral health needs of the elderly, promoting them to patients through dental marketing. For example, as people get older, the flow of their saliva changes. This can cause different areas of their teeth not to be as well-protected as when they were younger.

Also, manual tasks such as brushing teeth tend to get harder as people get older. Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said: “Carers and the health service need to be aware of how to approach oral care to elderly patients. Older people have some very specific dental needs.

“It is particularly important for older people to brush twice a day for two minutes at a time using a fluoride toothpaste. Use of mouthwashes to help prevent plaque build-up or products specifically developed for dry mouth can also help them maintain optimum oral care.”

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