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Diet and Oral Health: A Vicious Circle for Some Seniors

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space placeholder.Oral Concerns of Older Adults.
space placeholder.Other Reasons for a Poor Diet.
space placeholder.Eating a Healthy Diet.
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No matter your age, it's important to eat a healthy diet. It should include lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Try to keep fats and sweets to a minimum. Such a diet provides vitamins and minerals that keep your entire body — including your mouth — healthy and strong. Talk to a nutritionist or a dietician if you need help planning a healthy diet.

Eating right is especially important for older people. That's because poor nutrition can contribute to a decline in health. People in poor health are less likely to eat well. So are people with mouth or teeth problems. A vicious circle can result. This can have serious health consequences. Older people who live in nursing homes may be at a particular risk of developing vitamin deficiencies. They also may have more oral health problems.

People who wear dentures may not be able to chew well. They may lean toward soft diets. These diets often contain a lot of carbohydrates and not much nutrition.

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space placeholder.Oral Concerns of Older Adults
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Many older adults have mouth or teeth problems that make them less likely to consume a healthy diet.

Physical factors include:

  • Changes in chewing ability
  • Dry mouth (usually a side effect of medicine)
  • Changes in taste and smell
  • Slowing of metabolism and activity level
  • Reduction in nutrient absorption (sometimes caused by medicine)
  • Changes in eyesight and hearing
  • Physical disabilities
  • Untreated tooth decay
  • Loose teeth
  • Missing teeth that haven't been replaced with bridges, dentures or implants
  • Ill-fitting bridges or dentures

Regular dental care can improve or prevent many of these problems. However, many older people do not visit a dentist regularly.

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space placeholder.Other Reasons for a Poor Diet
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Many seniors lead a healthy, active life. Others may be isolated or lack the resources to live well. These problems can lead to a poor diet, which can cause physical problems. Factors that increase the risk of a poor diet include:

  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Depression
  • Low income
  • Changes in living arrangements
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug/nutrient interactions
  • Improper use of nutritional supplements
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space placeholder.Eating a Healthy Diet
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Here are some suggestions to help you eat an adequate diet even if you are having health problems.

If you have problems chewing, you can:

  • Chop, grind or puree meats.
  • Use canned, sugar-free fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook fresh vegetables to make them softer.
  • Eat softer breads and pasta.

If you have dry mouth, you can:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Suck on sugarless candies.
  • Talk to your dentist or doctor about saliva supplements.
  • Ask your doctor if you can use another medicine that may not cause dry mouth.

If you have a diminished or altered sense of taste, you can:

  • Add spices to your food.
  • Try flavored dairy products (such as yogurt).
  • Eat whole-grain breads and raw vegetables (they have more flavor).

If you have arthritis or a physical disability, you can:

  • Eat plenty of stews, soups and applesauce.
  • Eat tender meats or have your meats pureed.
  • Have your fruits and vegetables cut into small pieces.

Visit your dentist if you have mouth pain, missing teeth, ill-fitting dentures or bridges, or other oral problems.

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