Study finds link between frailty and oral health

If you’re looking to help the elderly stay more active, start with their teeth.

As a healthcare provider, you’re always looking for ways to help your patients be their best and their healthiest. While dentists concentrate mainly on oral health, it doesn’t end there.

But as we’ve shown before, oral health is directly related to health all over the body. Did you know, for example, that postmenopausal women with gum disease are more likely to develop cancer in their esophagus or gall bladder or that missing teeth can predict cardiovascular events?

New research from Britain suggests that oral health could be incredibly important for elderly patient. According to a study of older British men, poor oral health was associated with a greater risk of being frail or developing frailty in older age.

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Frailty is very common among older people, affecting as much as 59.1% of community-dwelling elderly adults. It includes problems such as unintentional weight loss, exhaustion, weakness and slow walking speed. Those problems can then lead to other issues like disability, falls and even death.

Researchers examined over 1,000 participants aged 71 to 92 and measured factors such as grip strength and walking speed. The rate of frailty was 19 percent.

The researchers also looked at the oral health of each participant, which included a count of natural teeth and an examination of periodontal conditions. Of the population, 20 percent were edentulous and 64% had fewer than 21 teeth. For periodontal conditions, 25 percent had loss of attachment greater than 5.5 mm and 29 percent periodontal pocket depth greater than 3.5 mm.

Overall, over a 3-year follow-up period, the risks of frailty increased with edentulous patients and those reporting only fair or poor oral health. Perhaps most importantly, the researchers found the more oral health problems, the greater the risk of frailty.

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Dry mouth symptoms were also shown to increase the rates of frailty. Dry mouth is often caused by medications, and can create denture-related problems (like sores or ulcers) and can also negatively impact eating and swallowing ability.

The researchers concluded that more research was needed to determine the cause of the link between frailty and oral health. However, they suspected the link is largely due to the negative impact on nutrition.

The study, “Influence of Poor Oral Health on Physical Frailty: A Population-Based Cohort Study of Older British Men” was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, DOI: 10.1111/jgs.15175