Preventing malnutrition in later life

Why dental care is so important in preventing malnutrition

Tooth loss and wearing dentures put older people at a greater risk of malnutrition, a new study has shown.

We often talk about how important mouth care is in preventing malnutrition in older people.

It makes perfect sense: if your teeth are loose, you’re in pain or your dentures don’t fit properly then eating can become difficult. The range of foods a person can comfortably eat will decrease and over time, this can have a serious effect on a person’s health.

But new research from King’s College London has shown exactly how pronounced the link between poor dentition and malnutrition can be, and the consequences if teeth are not properly cared for.

The study, which looked at the health of 1,800 Americans over 50, found that those who have less than 20 teeth are more likely to be undernourished.  Significantly, this was true regardless of whether they wore dentures or not.

The researchers also found a link between tooth loss and frailty.

According to Dr Wael Sabbah, lead researcher on the study, this is because denture wearers are avoiding certain nutrient-rich ‘hard’ foods such as nuts, some vegetables and meat because they are too hard to eat.

Although wearing dentures makes it easier to chew food, they’re not as strong as our natural teeth which can make eating certain foods difficult.

There are 11 million denture wearers in the UK today. This research suggests that they could be at risk of being undernourished.

We all know that’s it important to look after our teeth, but few might realise just how strong the link between dental hygiene, malnutrition and frailty really is. Promoting good oral health and supporting those with dentures to eat well must be a key part of tackling malnutrition in older people.

If you wear dentures and you’re concerned about the way they fit or how they affect your eating talk to your dentist. They will be able to make alterations and will have suggestions about how to manage eating. It’s also important to remember that people who are living in a care home or staying in hospital should expect to be provided with food they are able to eat, and supported to eat it. This includes people who have difficulty eating because of their teeth or oral health.

For more information and ideas for staying well-nourished, including suggestions of soft foods that are easier to chew, take a look at our guides for older people and carers.

The study was published in the journal Geriatrics and Gerontology International.


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