Not getting any younger

older menAs a study reveals that poor oral health increases risks of frailty in older men, Nigel Carter asks whether we’re planning for the future effectively.

A new study reveals that gum disease and tooth loss links to frailty in older British men.

Researchers observed more than 1,000 men over a three-year period. They found those with poor oral health were more likely to suffer from other issues. For example, weight loss, exhaustion, reduced gripping ability, a reduction in walking speed and low physical activity.

The study showed that one in five (20%) people examined had no teeth. More than half (54%) had gum disease and nearly a third (29%) suffered from dry mouth. Around one in 10 (11%) had trouble eating.

Dr Nigel Carter is the chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation. He has used the study as an opportunity to argue the case for older adults. For those who are more likely to experience issues in the mouth. Issues that can have a direct effect on their overall wellbeing.

He said: ‘Oral health problems are more common among older adults with tooth loss, gum disease, tooth decay and dry mouth the most likely to occur. These conditions not only influence the health of the mouth but also impact on a person’s quality of life too.

‘We often see first-hand the difficulties that poorer oral health in the elderly can have. This includes making it harder to eat, swallow, speak, get adequate nutrition, and even smile. Elderly people who are suffering with poor oral health could also be in pain and discomfort and experience problems their mouth and jaw.’

Identifying needs

The participants had a dental examination. Then, the participants (who were aged between 71 and 92), had their height, weight, and waist measured. They took timed walking tests and had their grip strength recorded.

The study, featured men from 24 towns across the UK. It highlighted the importance of oral health in the elderly. Dr Carter believes more could be done to identify and manage poor oral health of older adults.

Dr Carter added: ‘Sensory impairments such as eyesight and hearing, poor physical function and a patient’s wider history of disease are often what is taken into consideration when identifying frailty. Oral health is often ignored when assessing the care of older people.

‘Dental examinations and the health of a person’s mouth could become highly useful indicators of frailty and be added to general health screening assessments in older people.

‘The government must begin to take a greater interest in identifying the needs of the elderly population. At an earlier stage, in order for healthcare providers to manage them quickly and correctly.’

An ageing population

The UK is facing significant growth to its elderly population, with the number of people over 60 expected to increase by around seven million in the next 20 years.

Amongst challenges to the workforce, housing, education and public services, additional healthcare needs continue as a growing concern.

‘An urgent and preventive approach must be taken to the population’s oral health, in order to relieve future pressure on an already over-burdened health system,’ added Dr Carter.

‘A simple daily routine of brushing our teeth last thing at night and at one other time during the day with a fluoride toothpaste could vastly improve the health of our mouth moving into our later years.

‘Reducing the amount of sugar that we consume and visiting the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend, is also really important. By doing these things, there is no reason that we cannot keep our teeth for life and also reduce our risk of frailty as older adults.’ 


The study

Ramsey S, Papachristou E, Watt RG, Tsakos G, Lennon LT, Papacosta AO, Moynihan P, Sayer AA, Whincup PH, Wannamethee SG (2017) Influence of Poor Oral Health on Physical Frailty: A Population-Based Cohort Study of Older British Men. J Am Geriatr Soc

The study is available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.15175/full.

This article first appeared in Oral Health magazine.

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