Poor oral health : a cause of malnutrition in the elderly


Journal of the American Geriatrics Society published the findings of a recent study that proved the relationship between poor oral health, food scarcity and malnutrition in old adults. The research was carried out by UN school of medicine and concluded that lack of food and oral health care causes nutrition deficiency in old adults and results in elderly people being admitted to the emergency department.

Tim Platts-Mills, senior author of the research and co-director of the Division of Geriatric Emergency Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine stated, “For patients who don’t have enough food at home, the solution is pretty obvious and likely much less expensive than paying for the medical care that results from malnutrition: there is an existing national system of food assistance programs, such as Meals on Wheels, and we believe we can use the emergency department to link patients in need to those programs.” “Even though such programs are relatively inexpensive — about $6 per individual per day — many programs are underutilized and under-funded. We need to link patients to these programs and fund these programs.”

During the study 252 patients around the age of 65 were examined for malnutrition from the emergency department in North Carolina, Michigan, and New Jersey. They were also inquired about the presence of risk factors if any.

Findings of the Research

  • Overall malnutrition occurrence was recorded around 12 percent.
  • Patients in the emergency department of North Carolina had the highest malnutrition figure, 15 percent. Further it was found out that North Carolina has the greatest number of adults whose lifestyle is below the poverty line.
  • Malnutrition is largely dependent on poor oral health.

Factors Associated with Malnutrition

There are a few elements that trigger malnutrition in adults:

  • Patients with dental issues are three times as likely to suffer from malnutrition as compared to those who do not have.
  • 10 percent of the people had food insecurity, which involves having fewer and improper meals.
  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Limited mobility
  • Medication after affects

Collin Burks, a UNC medical student and the research’s lead author, reported, “Improving oral health in older adults will be more challenging but also important. Fixing dental problems not only makes it easier for these individuals to eat but also can improve their self-esteem, quality of life, and overall health. We need affordable methods of providing dental care for older adults.”

Platt-Mills research is further evolving and testing interferences to connect malnourished older patients in emergency departments to food assistance programs in the area.



April 6, 2017

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