As readers of our Advanced Family Dental blog know, our oral health often has surprising connections to our overall health. In recent years, tooth decay and gum disease have been linked to a variety of long-term illnesses, including everything from heart disease and stroke to diabetes and dementia.
Now a new study suggests, however strange it may sound, that poor oral health may contribute to an increased risk of falling. This surprising new line of questioning led researchers from Japan to examine whether poor oral health could actually be linked to fall rates in seniors.
Oral Health a Risk Factor for Falling?
As baby boomer populations across the globe continue to age, the number of recorded falls among seniors have started to become a growing concern. In the UK, between 28 to 35 percent of seniors over the age of 65 experienced at least one fall in 2016, while falls and fractures accounted for over 12 percent of Japan’s seniors needing long-term care. While minor bruising and hip fractures rank as the most common types of injuries suffered by seniors, falls have resulted in deaths. This makes identifying the potential risk factors for falling even more important if we are to protect the health of our aging populations.
Researchers at Kanagawa Dental University’s Graduate School of Dentistry elected to examine oral health conditions in relation to falling accidents in part because a suggested connection has been the subject of some recent controversy among health experts.
One recent study found a link between a drop in occlusal function (how teeth line up to create a bite) and postural instability (trouble standing up), while a separate study suggested that occlusal disharmony (a misaligned bite) is a risk factor for poor balance. A third study of over 4,000 seniors living in assisted living homes also found that those with fewer than 19 teeth and who didn’t wear dentures had a higher frequency of falling.
Diving into the Numbers
As a basis for their study, researchers used data collected as part of the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study, which took place between 2010 and 2013. Nearly 20,000 men and 21,000 women over the age of 65 who had no previous history of falls completed questionnaires. Researchers then used statistical models to determine the association between poor oral health in 2010 and fall rates in 2013.
The results of the study were published in the journal PLoS ONE.
Researchers discovered that for both men and women, poor oral function, including difficulty eating hard or chewy foods and choking, was linked to falling. However, women with between 10 and 19 remaining teeth and who did not wear dentures had a significantly higher risk of falling when compared to women with 20 or more teeth. Furthermore, those who less than 9 teeth were at a higher risk of suffering a fall, regardless of whether they wore dentures.
This study offers further food for thought for researchers studying boomers across the globe. The findings of the study suggest that poor oral health, having fewer remaining teeth, and not wearing dentures all increase the risk of falling in seniors.
Researchers believe that poor oral health in seniors results in falls due to dry mouth, choking, and difficulty eating tougher foods. Previous research has conclusively found that seniors who have trouble eating due to a lack of teeth tend to suffer from poor nutrition, which leads to weakness, low energy levels, and low blood sugar levels, all of which can contribute to falling.
While researchers suggest that more evidence is needed before a clear cause and effect relationship can be established between poor oral health and the risk of falling, they stress that the results of this study show that senior oral health should remain a priority. From scheduling regular exams and cleanings at Advanced Family Dental to having caretakers and loved ones assist with brushing and flossing, senior oral health is something that we all must focus more if we want to help people everywhere enjoy their golden years with the best health possible.