Poor oral health can cause muscular weakness, sudden weight loss or impaired mobility in elderly people.
A study published in the Journal of Gerondontology links frailty to a number of consequences for oral health.
These include the ability to bite and chew food, as well as sensitivity to hot a cold foods and drinks.
‘In the UK, people are living longer than ever before,’ Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, said.
‘This will increase the amount of poor health, frailty and disability.
‘In turn, it will create a series of challenges for how we care for the population’s oral health.
‘The first problems to occur are often because of a loss of dexterity.
‘Limited mobility can have an extremely large effect of our ability to care for our own health.
‘In terms of oral health, this means effective toothbrushing becomes much harder.’
The study also shows frail adults are more likely to feel self-conscious about their oral health.
Despite this, they are less likely to access dental care, the study points out.
Researchers examined a large number of hospitalised elderly patients over a six-month period.
‘The availability of dentists needs to be urgently addressed,’ adds Dr Carter.
‘There are also major barriers with transporting elderly people to the dentist.
‘Worryingly, there is also a poor knowledge and a lack of awareness of oral health amongst carers.
‘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.
‘Oral health training for carers also should take a greater priority.’
Oral health barriers
Cost, physical inability, poor general health and anxiety are the main reasons elderly people don’t visit the dentist.
Research recently published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene, looked into what barriers people over the age of 65 face.
Many interviewed listed forgetfulness as the main reason for not making regular visits to the dentist.
Cost was also another major barrier to visiting the dentist, while others dismissed the need to look after their oral health altogether.