A recently published study shows that the edentulous rate–the number of people that have lost all their teeth–has decreased significantly since the middle of the 20th century. In fact, it has dropped so precipitously it leads one to wonder whether we will soon see a time when the edentulous rate reaches zero–a world without dentures.

Demographics and Dentures

Happy Senior CoupleLooking at edentulism rates from five national studies of the population, researchers charted the decline in edentulism from 1957-2012. They found that the edentulism rate dropped from 18.9% to 4.9%.

The data researchers used comes from five cross-sectional surveys of the population, conducted in 1957-58, 1971-75, 1988-89, 1999-2002, and 2009-2012. The initial survey included 100,000 adults, but the surveys got smaller as statistical methods improved, and the last study was of only about 10,000 individuals. In addition, researchers used a sixth survey of more than 430,000 people in 2010 to look at geographic and demographic effects on toothlessness.

The major reason behind the decline is the death of generations born before the 1940s. These generations, without access to fluoridated water, fluoride toothpaste, or regular dental visits, had an edentulous rate of about 5-6% per decade (e.g.–10-12% for people age 20-29), compared to an edentulous rate of 1-3% for later generations.

Researchers also note that class is a major influence on the edentulous rate, with toothlessness becoming very rare in upper income families by 2010.

Projections for the Future

Researchers also used the data to extrapolate the continued decline of edentulousness into the future. They said the rate will continue to decline, but the decrease will slow. By 2050, they expect that the edentulous rate will be only 2.6%. As a result of this continued decline in edentulism, the number of people needing dentures in 2050 will be 30% less than in 2010, even though the population is increasing, and becoming increasingly older.

But will we ever see a generation that doesn’t need dentures? If the decline continues after 2050 as it did before 2050, the edentulous rate might drop to 0.3% by 2090. That would probably depend on reducing the economic inequality in this country, which doesn’t seem likely. On the other hand, there’s always the possibility that we will develop a way to regrow lost teeth.