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Poor dental health increases risks of frailty in older men

January 04, 2018

Oral health issues are common among older adults. These issues include tooth loss, gum disease, tooth decay, and dry mouth. These 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.

Oral health issues like tooth loss and gum disease are also linked to increased risks of frailty. Frailty is the medical term for becoming more vulnerable to declining health or the inability to perform the activities of daily living. Frailty is a major healthcare challenge for older adults and caregivers. 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.

Over a three-year period, researchers from the United Kingdom examined the relationship between poor oral health and older adults' risks for becoming frail. They published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers studied information from the British Regional Heart Study. This study included 7,735 British men. They 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, which included height, weight, and waist measurements. They also took timed walking tests and had their grip strength measured. They answered questions about their medical history and lifestyle. They 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 researchers found out the following facts about the participants' dental issues:
  • 20 percent had no teeth

  • 64 percent had fewer than 21 teeth

  • 54 percent had gum disease

  • 29 percent had at least two symptoms of dry mouth

  • 34 percent rated their oral health as "fair to poor"

  • 11 percent said they had trouble eating

The researchers said that men with dental issues were more likely to be frail than men without those issues. These dental issues included having no teeth, having trouble eating, having dry mouth symptoms, or rating oral health as "fair to poor."

The researchers also noted that complete tooth loss, dry mouth, and additional oral health concerns were especially linked to developing frailty.

The researchers concluded that these findings highlight the importance of oral health for older adults, suggesting that poor oral health contributes to frailty.
-end-
This summary is from "Influence of poor oral health on physical frailty: a population-based cohort study of older British men". It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Sheena E. Ramsay, PhD; Efstathios Papachristou, PhD; Richard G. Watt, PhD; Georgios Tsakos, PhD; Lucy T. Lennon, MSc; A. Olia Papacosta, MSc; Paula Moynihan, PhD; Avan A. Sayer,PhD; Peter H. Whincup, PhD; and S. Goya Wannamethee, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

American Geriatrics Society

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