Westminster: the scene of a recent debate about the nation’s dental health. Photo by Shining Darkness

A leading dentist has told MPs that patients aged over 45 need more specialist dental treatment than younger patients.

According to dentistry.co.uk, Professor Jimmy Steele, speaking at a Westminster meeting of the all-Parliamentary group for dentistry at the beginning of November (2011), claimed that the over-45s need better-targeted treatment.

This, he said, would best maintain their oral health at a stage of their life when they become more vulnerable to tooth decay and other associated dental issues.

Professor Steele, the Head of the School of Dental Sciences at Newcastle University, was quoted by dentistry.co.uk as saying that 25 per cent of work on over-45s should be rehabilitation and that “it will take more than a deftly-applied fluoride varnish, useful though that maybe” to meet their dental needs.

However, Dr Steele did have some positive news for adults who were born before 1966. He said: “The good news is that under-45s have healthier teeth than ever before and they have much better prospects than those who came before them.”

Dr Steele’s special concern for patients aged over-45 perhaps stems from the fact that this generation grew up before dentistry benefitted from significant improvements.

Recent innovations include the availability of products which discreetly and painlessly move your teeth; such as Inman Aligner and Invisalign. Putney dental clinic Ethicare has certainly taken advantage of these products to offer patients more options regarding their oral health.

So have those aged under 45 suffered because these products, and other modern forms of treatment, weren’t as freely available a decade ago? And do older generations take less care of their teeth and their overall physical health?

The answer to these questions perhaps lies in the Adult Dental Health Survey (ADHS) of 2009 – a report Dr Steele was heavily involved in.

The study found that just three per cent of English people in the 45 to 54 age category had all of their natural teeth in their mouth. This figure was 12 per cent in the age category below (the 35 to 44 age group) – quite a significant difference suggesting that in many cases we should more vigilant about our dental health once we pass 40.

Of course, cutting out nicotine is one widely-acknowledged way of safeguarding dental health as dentists frequently point out the connection between smoking and poor dental health.

It is a lesson which the over-45s seem to be taking to heart as the ADHS survey found that the further you leave your 45th birthday behind you the less likely you are to be a smoker.

While 29 per cent of English 25 to 34 year-olds were regular smokers in 2009, the figure was just 23 per cent in the 45 to 54 age range, 19 per cent in the 55 to 64 category and in single figures for those aged over 75.

Another discovery made by the same survey concerned the fact that in England people aged over-45 are less likely to brush their teeth twice-a-day than people in the 25 to 44 age category are. However, they are more regular twice-a-day brushers than 16 to 24-year-olds are.

So what else should the over-45s (and all of us do) to look after our teeth as we get older? Any dentist will tell you that brushing twice a day, flossing and avoiding sugary snacks between meal times is an essential part of a sensible daily dental routine.

It is also a universal truth that a regular dental check-up is a good idea. However, there is some disagreement as to how regular check-ups should be. Dr Steele believes that it is wrong to advise patients to visit their dentist every six months.
“That derives from something somebody published in the United States in the 1940s; there is no evidence for that,” the outspoken dentist told MPs.

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