BACKGROUND: As tooth loss decreases in an aging United States, retaining enough natural teeth for function is important for quality of life.
METHODS: The authors used data from the 1999 through 2004 and the 2009 through 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to assess changes in tooth loss in adults 50 years or older. The authors evaluated changes in edentulism, retaining all teeth, and having a functional dentition (21 or more natural teeth) according to poverty status.
RESULTS: Edentulism was lower in 2009 through 2014 than in 1999 through 2004 (11% versus 17%) for adults 50 years or older, but this decrease was not significant among the poor (people at < 100% of the federal poverty guideline; P > .05). Complete tooth retention improved from 14% to 21% between 1999 through 2004 and 2009 through 2014 for people 50 years or older (P < .05). Gains were attributable mostly to adults who were nonpoor (? 200% federal poverty guideline). More older adults had a functional dentition in 2009 through 2014 than in 1999 through 2004 (67% versus 55%; P < .05), although the increases generally were significant only for those not living in poverty.
CONCLUSIONS: Complete tooth loss has decreased by more than 75% for those aged 65 through 74 years over the past 5 decades in the United States. Improvements in tooth loss measures, such as edentulism and complete tooth retention, have been most significant among the nonpoor, whereas those who are poor have experienced fewer improvements.
PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: An aging population is experiencing less edentulism and greater tooth retention, so older adults may need more regular oral health care and prevention services to address concerns such as root caries and periodontal disease.