The links between frailty and oral health

July 11, 2019

As we get older, our bodies quite often don’t work like they did when we were much younger. It's an unfortunate fact of life that elderly people are more prone to conditions which can negatively affect every part of the body, and sadly this is true for oral health as well. Gerontologists (scientists studying the process of ageing) have found that older people with muscular weakness, sudden weight loss or impaired mobility are substantially more prone to issues with their oral health. In fact, frailty in general has been linked to issues with biting and chewing food, as well as loss of sensitivity to hot and cold food/drinks.  


The study, published in the Journal of Gerondontology, found that over 5 million people aged over 65 have significant oral health problems caused by frailty. These problems first arise due to a loss of dexterity as limited mobility, no matter how small, can have an extremely detrimental effect on our ability to care for our own health. In terms of oral health, this means effective toothbrushing becomes much harder- and this, coupled with a difficulty in maintaining balanced nutrition, often leads to more frequent sugar consumption. Furthermore, those with health problems are also more likely to be on medication, making unpleasant conditions like dry mouth far more common- a dry mouth is also a major factor in oral health problems like gum disease, as harmful bacteria thrive in these conditions.  


A part of the study, a number of hospitalised elderly patients were examined over a six-month period, and it was revealed that frail adults are more likely to feel self-conscious about their teeth, gums or dentures- many are also unhappy with how their teeth look in general. Unfortunately, the study also confirmed that frail adults’ access dental care less often, as in many cases a trip to the dentist is impossible for people with severe mobility problems. All of these factors create an urgent need to move towards a more effective system for oral health care of our elderly. Giving people access to dental services in hospitals, residential homes, as well as for those still living in their own homes is a real and viable option, and oral health training for carers also should take a greater priority. 



At Mount Oval Dental Practice, providing good oral health for our patients is always a top priority, no matter their age. If you yourself are elderly and wish to improve your oral health, or if you feel a loved one or older friend would benefit from a check-up, just call us on 021 489 8784 and we’ll book you in for an appointment as soon as possible. 

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