Dental health linked to falls in Japanese elderly

By Sarah Guy, MedWire Reporter

Japanese study results indicate that elderly individuals with 19 or fewer teeth who do not wear dentures are at a greater risk for incident falls than their counterparts with 20 teeth or more.

This fall risk was attenuated in individuals with 19 or fewer teeth who wore dentures, say the researchers, who found no association between study participants' chewing ability and their risk for falls.

"Promoting dental care including proper use of denture might be an additional option for the prevention of falls in addition to current interventions targeting conventional risk factors, which warrants further interventional studies," suggest Yukio Hirata (Kanagawa Dental College, Yokosuka-shi) and co-investigators.

Falls impose a burden on the sustainability of health and long-term care in Japan and many other countries where the population is aging, the researchers explain. In addition to older age and arthritis, the identification of other risk factors could help establish more effective fall prevention programs, they add.

A total of 1763 participants of the Aichi Gerontological Evaluation Study Project aged 65 years and older self-reported how many teeth they had, whether they wore dentures, how easily they were able to chew, and whether they had had any falls in the previous year.

In univariate analysis, Hirata and team found that poor dental status (having fewer than 20 teeth), a poor chewing ability (eating limited foods, hardly any solids, or liquidizing all food), male gender, and depression were all associated with experiencing incident falls.

Indeed, after adjusting for all potential confounders, having 19 or fewer teeth and not wearing dentures increased the risk for falls 2.5-fold compared with having 20 teeth or more, report the researchers, while the association with chewing lost its significance.

"These results suggest that the poor dental occlusion due to not using dentures after losing teeth is a strong risk factor for falls among subjects with 19 or fewer teeth," write Hirata and colleagues in BMJ Open.

The findings could be explained by results of previous studies, says the team, which show dental occlusion affects postural and gaze stabilization via the sensory input from the masticatory muscular system and dentoalveolar ligaments. Therefore, poor occlusion may interfere with head stability.

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