Toothlessness Rates Vary State To State

NEW YORK (Reuters Health)--If you want to keep all your teeth as you age, it helps to live in Hawaii and to be a nonsmoker, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Only 14 percent of people 65 or older who live in Hawaii are completely toothless, a condition known as edentulism. In contrast, 48 percent of West Virginians the same age have lost all their teeth, according to the survey of more than 27,000 people in 46 states.

The good news is that the variation from state to state suggests that "total tooth loss is not an inevitable consequence of aging," according to the CDC.

"Changes in attitudes toward dentistry, advancements in dental restorative technologies, periodontal treatment and effectiveness of water fluoridation and other preventive measures have helped ensure tooth retention," the authors write in the March 19th issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Although the national goal is to reduce the number of people with edentulism to less than 20 percent of the population over age 65 by the year 2000, only five states achieved that goal - Arizona, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Wisconsin. In addition to West Virginia, more than 40 percent of Louisiana and Kentucky residents over age 65 were also toothless.

A number of factors contribute to the likelihood that a person will retain their teeth as they age. About 42 percent of high school dropouts had lost all their teeth, compared with 10 percent to 25 percent of those with more education.

Not surprisingly, those with dental insurance were better off, and only 18 percent had lost all their teeth compared with 27 percent of those without insurance.

And if you need another reason to quit smoking, keeping your teeth may be it. About 41 percent of daily smokers were toothless, compared with 29 percent of occasional smokers, 26 percent of former smokers and 20 percent of never-smokers.

Total tooth loss is most often due to tooth decay, and drinking fluoridated water and using fluoride-containing or antibacterial products can help prevent the problem.

"In addition, improved access to clinical dental services and expanded community tobacco-control activities can help prevent total tooth loss," according to the report.

Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 1999;48:206-209.

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