Oral health problems such as gum disease and tooth loss have been linked to frailty in older British men, a new study has revealed.

Researchers observed more than 1,000 men over a three-year period and found those with poor oral health were more likely to suffer from weight loss, exhaustion, gripping ability, a reduction in walking speed and low physical activity.

The study showed that one in five (20%) people examined had no teeth, more than half (54%) had gum disease, nearly a third (29%) suffered from dry mouth and around one in ten (11%) had trouble eating.

Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says older adults are more likely to experience issues in the mouth and this can have a direct effect on their overall wellbeing: “Oral health problems are more common among older adults with tooth loss, gum disease, tooth decay and dry mouth the most likely to occur. These conditions not only influence the health of the mouth but also impacts on a person’s quality of life too.

“We often see first-hand the difficulties that poorer oral health in the elderly can have, including making it harder to eat, swallow, speak, get adequate nutrition, and even smile. Elderly people who are suffering with poor oral health could also be in pain and discomfort and experience problems their mouth and jaw.”

As well as a dental examination, the participants which were aged between 71 and 92, had their height, weight and waist measured, took timed walking tests and had their grip strength recorded.

The study, which featured men from 24 towns across the UK, highlighted the importance of oral health in the elderly and Dr Carter believes more could be done to identify and manage poor oral health of older adults.

Dr Carter says: “Sensory impairments such as eye sight and hearing, poor physical function and a patient’s wider history of disease are often what is taken into consideration when identifying frailty, and oral health is often ignored when assessing the care of older people.

“Dental examinations and the health of a person’s mouth could become highly useful indicators of frailty and be added to general health screening assessments in older people.

“The government must begin to take a greater interest in identifying the needs of the elderly population at an earlier stage in order for healthcare providers to manage them quickly and correctly.”

The UK is facing significant changes to its elderly population, with the number of people over 60 expected to increase by around seven million in the next 20 years.

Amongst challenges to the workforce, housing, education and public services, added healthcare needs continue to be a growing concern.

“An urgent and preventive approach must be taken to the population’s oral health, in order to relieve future pressure on an already over-burdened health system,” adds Dr Carter.

“A simple daily routine of brushing our teeth last thing at night and at one other time during the day with a fluoride toothpaste could vastly improve the health of our mouth moving into our later years.

“Reducing the amount of sugar that we consume and visiting the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend, is also really important. By doing these things, there is no reason that we cannot keep our teeth for life and also reduce our risk of frailty as older adults.”