The UK researchers have revealed the relationship between poor oral health and older adults' risks for becoming frail. Oral health issues like tooth loss and gum disease are linked to increased risks of frailty. The findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Oral health issues (tooth loss, gum disease, tooth decay, and dry mouth) are common among older adults. The conditions can also affect an older adult's well-being because they may make it harder to eat, swallow, speak, get adequate nutrition, and even smile.
Frailty is the medical term for becoming more vulnerable to declining health or the inability to perform the activities of daily living. Someone who is frail can be weak, have less endurance, and be less able to function well. Frailty increases the risk for falls, disability, and even death.
In the British Regional Heart Study, the researchers included 7,735 British men. The men were first examined in 1978 to 1980 when they were 40- to 59-years-old. In 2010 to 2012, researchers invited 1,722 surviving participants to be re-examined. During that time period, the participants were 71- to 92-years-old.
Participants were given physical exams (height, weight, and waist measurements). The participants also took timed walking tests and had their grip strength measured. They answered questions about their medical history, lifestyle and also answered a questionnaire asking about medical, social, and health-related information.
The exam included a dental exam. Dental health professionals counted the participants' natural teeth and measured the health of their gums. Participants answered questions about their dental health, including if they had dry mouth. Researchers also noted the participants' frailty status.
Participants were considered frail if they had at least three of these issues: exhaustion, weak grip strength, slow walking speed, weight loss, or low levels of physical activity. The findings include: 20% had no teeth, 64% had fewer than 21 teeth, 54% had gum disease, 29% had at least two symptoms of dry mouth, 34% rated their oral health as fair to poor, and 11% said they had trouble eating.
The researchers said that men with dental issues were more likely to be frail than men without those issues. The dental issues included having no teeth, having trouble eating, having dry mouth symptoms, or rating oral health as fair to poor.
The researchers noted that complete tooth loss, dry mouth, and additional oral health concerns were especially linked to developing frailty. The study findings highlighted the importance of oral health for older adults and suggested that poor oral health contributes to frailty.