Periodontitis, an infection of the gums, is a serious disease that can lead to loss of teeth. This infection invades the soft tissue of your gums and can even work its way into the bone. Severe periodontitis can even lead to an increased risk for heart attack or stroke; one theory is that bacteria enters the bloodstream and attaches itself to fatty plaque in the heart arteries, helping to form clots [source: Mayo Clinic, Perio.org ].
Periodontitis affects the elderly more than the rest of the population -- about 23 percent of adults aged 65 to 74 have it [source: CDC]. This isn't because the elderly are more susceptible to the disease but because, as people live longer and longer, there is a cumulative effect of the risk factors that lead to periodontitis [source: Lamster et al]. Risk factors for periodontal disease include the following:
- improper oral hygiene
- sugary and acidic food
- poorly constructed crowns or fillings
- wisdom teeth
The best way to prevent periodontitis is by brushing and flossing regularly. And, as we found out on the previous page, it may be difficult for older people to brush and floss because of arthritis and decrease in motor skills.