Poor Oral Health and Physical Frailty
The number of older adults in the US is dramatically increasing. This is also true of other developed countries. A recent study sheds light on the influence poor oral health has on physical frailty in older adults.
Older adults’ health and well-being is an important public health issue. Many older adults have poor oral health. Unfortunately, these issues affect overall health and measures of well-being, as well.
Poor Oral Health in Older Adults
Older adults have a variety of oral health problems. For example, people in this group often have lost a number of teeth. In addition, many have gum disease, cavities, and problems related to dry mouth.
British researchers looked at whether these types of issues affect frailty in old age. Their study looked at men aged 71 to 92 in 24 British towns. The research took the form of a cross-sectional and longitudinal study. It included 3 years of follow-up and used data on heart health among Brits.
The researchers used both objective and subjective assessments of oral health in the study. On the objective side, they looked at issues such as number of teeth and history of gum disease.
On the subjective side, they asked about things like self-rated oral health. These included symptoms of dry mouth, tooth sensitivity, and whether the subjects had difficulty eating.
Researchers Find Link Between Physical Frailty and Poor Oral Health
To measure frailty, the researchers observed issues such as weight loss and the strength of the subjects’ grips. They also asked about feelings of exhaustion. In addition, they asked about subjects’ walking speeds and level or physical exercise.
The study’s authors reported an association between poor oral health and frailty. Specifically, they found that having less than 21 teeth, complete tooth loss, fair to poor self-rated oral health, difficulty eating, dry mouth, and other problems led to a greater likelihood of frailty.
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In addition, according to the authors, “These oral health problems have significant effects on eating and swallowing, nutritional intake, speaking, and smiling and thus affect several aspects of health and well-being.”
Moreover, the authors reported that loss of teeth and gum disease are “associated with greater risks of morbidity, physical and cognitive decline, and mortality.”
Healthy Teeth, Healthy Aging
“The identification and management of poor oral health in older people could be important in preventing frailty,” according to the report. Their findings shine a light on the significant role oral health plays in healthy aging.
As they concluded, “Our findings particularly highlight the importance of tooth loss, dry mouth, and cumulative oral health problems.” They found that all of these play a role in frailty as we age.
The authors think the influence tooth loss and dry mouth have on frailty in old age could be due to poor nutrition.
In addition, they noted that, “Although causal associations cannot be fully established from our study, our findings suggest that dry mouth or accumulation of oral health problems could be powerful markers and predictors of frailty in older people.”
The authors also looked at whether the associations between oral health and frailty were independent of other factors. They found a link between problems with oral health and frailty in aging adults. This was independent of socioeconomic and other factors such as smoking, socioeconomic position, and history of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
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