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Older people with fewer teeth at risk of frailty

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UK researchers have found an association between tooth loss and musculoskeletal frailty.

The greatest risk is seen in people who have fewer than 20 teeth, according the study published in Geriatrics & Gerontology International.

Led by Dr Wael Sabbah from King’s College London Dental Institute, the research was based on data from the US-based National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011/2012.

The final analysis examined the frailty of 924 males and 928 females, who had a mean age of 62.9 years and were categorised into three groups: those having at least 20 teeth, denture wearers with less than 20 teeth, and non-denture wearers with less than 20 teeth. Participants were assessed on factors including handgrip strength, nutritional intake, BMI and oral health.

Reporting on the findings, King’s College London said that those with more than 20 teeth were significantly less likely to be frail than those with less than 20 teeth who did not use dentures. This group was also found to have consumed the greatest amount of nutrients over the study period.

Having fewer teeth was associated with a lower nutritional intake, regardless of denture use.

However, there was no statistically significant difference in musculoskeletal frailty between denture users with less than 20 teeth and those with more than 20 teeth.

Commenting on the research, Dr Sabbah said: “Few studies have examined the relationship between oral health, particularly periodontal disease, the number of teeth and general frailty. While others have argued that older adults who need dentures were more likely to be frail, there were few attempts to explain the underpinning cause of the relationship.

“One of the important findings of the study is the significant relationship between the condition of teeth and deficiency in intake of essential nutrients, regardless of the use of dentures. To date, the majority of efforts to improve frailty have focused on nutrition strategies, including health education, while the influence of teeth on dietary restraint of the elderly has been neglected.

“The findings of this analysis, along with that reported in earlier research, suggest that the use of denture could be a neglected intervention that could potentially have a preventative impact on musculoskeletal frailty. The results also highlight the importance of developing oral health policies to ensure older adults maintain functional dentition throughout their life.”