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Bite-Sized Insights — How Tooth Loss Impacts Weight and Nutrition in Older Adults

Tooth loss in older adults is linked to significant changes in diet, leading to both obesity and malnutrition. A new study reveals that fewer teeth and impaired chewing ability are associated with higher odds of obesity, highlighting the critical role of dental health in overall nutrition and weight management.

Tooth loss is a prevalent issue among adults aged 65 and older, affecting approximately 30% of older adults globally and about 17% in the United States, with 55% lacking a functional dentition defined as having at least 21 remaining teeth. Despite a general decline in edentulism, significant disparities exist across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Concurrently, older adults are at a higher risk of malnutrition.

Progressive tooth loss, culminating in edentulism, impairs biting and chewing, leading to inadequate intake of essential nutrients. This often results in unintentional weight changes and increased malnutrition risk. Older adults with compromised dentition may avoid nutrient-dense foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, due to difficulty in chewing, leading to weight loss and muscle mass reduction. Simultaneously, a shift toward easier-to-chew, calorie-dense foods can result in weight gain and obesity.

These dietary changes can adversely affect body composition, potentially leading to sarcopenia, characterized by the loss of muscle mass and function. Sarcopenic obesity, which combines excess adiposity with low muscle mass, further complicates the health outcomes for these individuals.

A new study, published in Gerodontology, aimed to investigate the associations between dentition status and weight status among older adults treated at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in Newark, New Jersey. The researchers hypothesized no significant associations between body mass index (BMI) and various measures of dentition status, including the number of remaining teeth, anterior and posterior occluding pairs of teeth, and functional dentition status.

The study analyzed 1,765 patient records, revealing that a higher number of remaining teeth and posterior occluding pairs of teeth were associated with lower odds of obesity. Conversely, a lack of functional dentition correlated with a higher likelihood of obesity. No significant association was found between BMI and the number of anterior occluding pairs of teeth. Each additional posterior occluding pair of teeth was associated with a 7% decrease in obesity odds.

The study underscores the negative impact of oral dysfunction, particularly the loss of posterior occlusion and functional dentition, on diet quality and nutrient consumption. This dysfunction affects biting, chewing, and swallowing, leading to dietary adjustments that can cause weight changes. Older adults might either lose weight unintentionally by avoiding hard-to-chew, nutrient-rich foods or gain weight by consuming easier-to-chew, high-calorie foods.

Ultimately, the study highlights the significant relationship between dental health and weight status in older adults. Those with fewer teeth, fewer posterior occluding pairs, or lacking functional dentition were more likely to be obese. The study calls for further research to explore these associations and develop targeted interventions to address the intertwined issues of tooth loss, malnutrition, and obesity in the aging population. Click here to read the study.

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