Oral Health and Nutrition: Interrelated Challenges for Older Adults

For Immediate Release
December 1, 2020

Contact: Todd Kluss
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The health of the mouth and the nutritional status of older adults are not just connected — they’re integrally related. Declining oral health affects the foods a person can enjoy. Without a nutritious diet, oral health can decline.

Interrelationships Between Nutrition and Oral Health in Older Adults,” the topic of the latest issue of The Gerontological Society of America’s What’s Hot newsletter, addresses these important aspects of health from research, clinical, practice, and policy perspectives.

“This report shows the circular relationship between oral health and nutrition,” said Rose Ann DiMaria-Ghalili, PhD, RN, CNSC, FASPEN, FAAN, FGSA, a member of the content development faculty who is with the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University. “As explained in the newsletter, without a healthy mouth to chew food and begin the digestive process, nutritional status suffers. Without adequate nutrients, oral health often declines, muscles weaken, gum tissues become infected, bone supporting the teeth resorbs, and teeth decay and may be lost. And the process repeats.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already-bad situation for many people, including older adults who need to stay at home and those with reduced income.

“In addition, social determinants of health — lack of dental providers, living in food deserts with little access to transportation, and delaying care to avoid the virus — have worsened oral health status,” said Michèle J. Saunders, DMD, MS, MPH, FGSA, of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “Tooth pain, broken teeth, caries, interruptions in restorative care of the mouth — all of these make eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits that much more difficult. When there are disparities in oral health care, this situation is exacerbated.”

The importance of a cohesive interprofessional team focusing on nutrition and oral health is another important thread in this issue of What’s Hot. The nutritional status and oral health of older adults should be assessed during all routine examinations and hospitalizations, the report explains. In addition, the time leading up to elective surgery is an important period for looking at a patient’s nutritional health, and this is just as important for those with overweight/obesity as in people with sarcopenia and frailty.

In these fields, clinical challenges are linked to policy gaps, DiMaria-Ghalili added.

“The striking inadequacies Americans encounter in older adulthood start with lack of education of health professionals and culminate with poor nutrition at a time of life when dental insurance is frequently lost, insufficient, or unaffordable,” she said. “We really need to pay more attention to nutrition and the health of the mouth.”

Support for this issue of What’s Hot was provided by GSK.


The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society.

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