Study links frailty to poor oral health

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Study links frailty to poor oral health

New research shows that elderly people who suffer from frailty are substantially more prone to issues with their oral health. (Photograph: Lisa S./Shutterstock)

Wed. 1 May 2019


MELBOURNE, Australia/LONDON, UK: It is widely known that poor nutrition is a risk factor for frailty. Similarly, the link between nutrition and oral health status has been established in numerous studies. New research has bridged the gap between these two relationships, however, and found that poor oral health is independently associated with frailty.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Monash Aging Research Centre at Monash University in Melbourne, assessed the oral health, nutrition and frailty of 168 hospitalised geriatric patients over six months using previously validated tools.

The results show that elderly people who suffer from frailty are substantially more prone to issues with their oral health. Frailty is linked to a reduced ability to bite and chew food, as well as sensitivity to hot and cold food and drink. The study also revealed that frail adults are more likely to feel self-conscious about their teeth, gingivae or dentures and are less likely to access dental care.

Previously, experts have identified a relationship between frailty and difficulties with speech and with taking medication for oral pain.

Dr Nigel Carter, OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, a UK-based charity, stated in a press release regarding the study that the oral health of older people remains an ongoing issue.

“In the UK, people are living longer than ever before. This will increase the amount of poor health, frailty and disability. In turn, it will create a series of challenges for how we care for the population’s oral health,” he said.

“The first problems to occur are often because of a loss of dexterity. Limited mobility, no matter how small, can have an extremely large effect on our ability to care for our own health. In terms of oral health, this means effective toothbrushing becomes much harder. Balanced nutrition also becomes more difficult,” he continued.

Carter called on the UK government to provide greater access to dental services for frail adults in hospitals, as well as for those in nursing homes, and to provide better oral health training for carers. “The government must find such proactive solutions if they are to address the health needs of an ageing population,” Carter stated.

The study, titled “Frailty, oral health and nutrition in geriatrics inpatients: A cross‐sectional study”, was published online in Gerodontology on 12 March 2019 ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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