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06th February 2018

Poor Oral Health Increases Risks of Frailty


Don’t get confused – this is still the nutrition blog! But it is important that we are aware of the many factors that can impact the weight status of service users and this includes oral or dental health.

Oral Health Problems are Common in Older Adults

Oral health problems are widely prevalent in older adults. Studies have suggested that only around 40% have functional dentition (defined as more than 21 teeth), and more than a third have a dry mouth. These problems can have a significant impact on eating, swallowing and nutritional intake and therefore can increase the risk of malnutrition.

A new study in older UK men has found an association between oral health problems and frailty. In this study, frailty was defined as having 3 or more of the following; weight loss, exhaustion, gripping ability, slow walking speed and low physical activity.

Study Indicates Those with Poorer Oral Health are More Likely to be Frail

Using data collected from over 1000 socially and geographically represented UK men aged between 71 and 92 years, the study researchers reported that those with poorer oral health (such as no teeth or dry mouth symptoms) were more likely to be frail. Having a greater number of oral health problems was also associated with being frail.

Over a 3 year follow-up period, the researchers noted that the risk of becoming frail was greater in participants who were edentulous (lacking teeth), had 3 or more dry mouth symptoms and had 2 or more oral health problems. The data analysis accounted for age, social class, smoking status, history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease and use of any medication with dry mouth as a side effect.

Poor Oral Health Impacts Quality of Life e.g. Trouble Eating

According to the study, 303 (19%) of the men were frail at baseline, with 107 (10%) more becoming frail by the end of the follow-up period. The authors reported that one in five (20%) people examined had no teeth and nearly one in three (29%) had a dry mouth (assessed using a validated scale). These conditions not only influence oral health but have an impact on a person’s quality of life, for example, having trouble eating. Older people who are suffering with poor oral health could also be in pain and discomfort and this again has an impact on appetite and food intake.

Oral Health can have a Significant Influence on Food Intake

The research highlights one of the many factors that may influence the risk of malnutrition i.e. poor oral health. Not only is it important to promote and protect oral health in service users but it is also important to increase the awareness that oral health can have a significant influence on food intake.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Science Manager, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all.

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