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Tooth Loss Tied to Malnutrition in Older Adults

Poor diet is in turn associated with more severe health issues, from weight loss to dementia

Dentist looking at patient's teeth

Eugenio Marongiu/Getty Images

There is a strong link between tooth decay and malnutrition in older adults, a study of dental health records finds.

Among older patients who received treatment at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine clinic, more than 25 percent showed signs of malnutrition or were at risk for malnutrition. The findings were published in the Journal of Aging Research and Clinical Practice.

The highest risk for malnutrition was for those who have fewer than 20 teeth.

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Malnutrition is linked to unwanted weight loss, dementia, depression and other severe illnesses, study authors noted, meaning that dental care could be a key step in fending off much more serious health issues.

“If [the mouth’s] integrity is impaired, the functional ability of an individual to consume an adequate diet may be adversely impacted,” said Rena Zelig, lead author and director of the master of science in clinical nutrition program at the Rutgers School of Health Professions. In light of the findings, she said, health professionals should consider providing affected patients with referrals to registered dietitians and meal service programs to lessen nutritional decline.

Researchers cautioned that their findings are in conflict with some previous research. They called for further research among broader and different populations with varying health conditions.

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