Older adults are at risk for both impaired oral health and malnutrition, according to researchers who analyzed the health records of 107 community-dwelling senior citizens treated at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine clinic in 2015 and 2016.
More than 25% of these patients had malnutrition or were at risk for malnutrition. Patients with 10 to 19 teeth also were more likely to be at risk for malnutrition. Patients classified as having malnutrition had higher rates of weight loss, ate less, and more frequently reported that they suffered from dementia and/or depression and severe illnesses than those who had a normal nutrition status.
“The mouth is the entryway for food and fluid intake,” said lead author Rena Zelig, DCN, MCN, director of the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition Program at the Rutgers School of Health Professions. “If its integrity is impaired, the functional ability of an individual to consume an adequate diet may be adversely impacted.”
Although further studies need to examine the relationships between tooth loss and malnutrition risk, Zelig said the findings show that dental clinics are ideal locations to perform nutritional status screenings as they can identify patients who may not regularly visit a primary care provider and who may be at risk for malnutrition.
“Clinicians also can provide patients with referrals to registered dietitians and community assistance programs such as Meals on Wheels to prevent further decline in nutritional status,” said Zelig.
This was the first part of a mixed-methods grant to research the associations between tooth loss and nutritional status in older adults. The second part of the grant built on these results and qualitatively studied the eating experience and eating-related quality of life of community-dwelling older adults using qualitative interviews.
The researchers say that the study sets the stage for further research to examine the relationships between tooth loss and malnutrition risk and the impact of tooth loss on the eating experience and eating-related quality of life.
The study, “Dentition and Malnutrition Risk in Community Dwelling Older Adults,” was published by The Journal of Aging Research & Clinical Practice.