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Health in Ireland - Key Trends 2022. Oral Health and Healthy Ageing

01 December 2022

Key Health Trends 2022

Health in Ireland - Key Trends 2022 has been published today.

It is good to see that 82.1% of people rate their health as good or very good.

Trends to watch are the ageing population, with an increase of 36% since 2012 of those aged 65 years and over. It is claimed that this is set to double in 20 years, this is sure to have implications for oral health in Ireland when the findings from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) 2017 ‘Oral Health and Wellbeing in Older Adults in Ireland’ are considered.

  • One in six (18%) of adults aged 54 years and over in Ireland has no natural teeth although most have dentures in place of teeth.
  • Prevalence of tooth loss increases with age, with 40% of those aged 75 years and over having no natural teeth compared to 7% of those aged 54 to 64 years.
  • Older adults living in rural Ireland are twice as likely to have lost all their teeth as those resident in Dublin (22% versus 10%).
  • Rural dwellers also visit their dentist less frequently, with 15% not attending at all in recent years compared to 7% in Dublin.
  • Older adults who have lost their teeth are more likely to be current smokers, than those who have retained them and the difference is particularly noted in those aged 54 to 64 years (40% versus 15%).
  • Overall, 6% of older adults report problems with everyday activities such as eating, speaking or laughing because of issues with their mouth/teeth or dentures, while over a quarter of those with no teeth, with or without dentures experience difficulties with activities such as eating, smiling or speaking.
  • Older adults with no teeth, with or without dentures report less active social participation, lower quality of life, increased depressive symptoms, and increased loneliness compared to adults with all their own teeth.
  • Use and awareness of state dental services is low, particularly amongst those with no teeth.

Oral diseases like tooth decay and periodontitis (severe gum disease) are prevalent in older adults. They also have high levels of tooth loss and conditions like xerostomia (dry mouth) as a side effect from some medications, which in turn increases the risk for tooth decay. Poor oral health in older adults can cause pain, eating and chewing issues, resulting in nutritional deficiencies, and as highlighted by TILDA impacts on their self-esteem or confidence.

Japan launched the 8020 campaign in 1989 with the aim that people at age 80 would still have 20 of their natural teeth for good health and wellbeing. A national survey carried out in 2016 found the campaign to be successful with 50% of the 80-year-old population keeping 20 of their teeth.

Prevention will be key in Ireland in ensuring a better quality of life for senior years.

The simple, positive message of the 8020 campaign is: let’s keep at least 20 teeth so we can enjoy food and have better health when we’re 80 years old.

A similar holistic health promotion initiative should be adopted in Ireland.