The presence of oral health problems is associated with greater risks of being frail and developing frailty in older age, according to UK researchers.
As a result, the identification and management of poor oral health in older people could be important in preventing frailty, said study authors from University College London.
“Poor oral health could also be important as a modifiable risk factor for frailty”
Over a three-year period, they examined the relationship between poor oral health and older adults’ risks for becoming frail using information from the British Regional Heart Study of 7,735 British men.
The men were first examined in 1978 to 1980 when they were 40-59-years-old. In 2010 to 2012, the researchers invited 1,722 surviving participants to be re-examined when they were 71-92-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.
Dental health professionals also counted the participants’ natural teeth and measured the health of their gums. Participants answered questions on dental health, including if they had dry mouth.
In addition, they answered questions about their medical history and lifestyle, and completed a questionnaire asking about medical, social, and health-related information.
Researchers also noted frailty status. Participants were considered frail if they had at least three of the following issues – exhaustion, weak grip strength, slow walking speed, weight loss, or low levels of physical activity.
The researchers found that 20% of participants had no teeth, 64% had fewer than 21 teeth and 54% had gum disease.
“Dry mouth or accumulation of oral health problems could be powerful markers”
Meanwhile, 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 concluded 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,” highlighted the study authors, led by Dr Sheena Ramsay.
The researchers also noted that complete tooth loss, dry mouth, and additional oral health concerns were especially linked to developing frailty.
They said their findings, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, highlighted the importance of oral health for older adults, suggesting that poor oral health contributed to frailty.
“Our findings suggest that dry mouth or accumulation of oral health problems could be powerful markers and predictors of frailty in older people,” they stated.
They added: “Poor oral health could also be important as a modifiable risk factor for frailty through its effect on oral intake and nutritional status.”