As the  Geriatric Toothfairy, I have seen seniors face a great deal of oral neglect. I’ve seen rotten teeth and mouths that had not been brushed for weeks!

I have also witnessed malnutrition. Malnutrition is a common problem, yet we hardly talk about it in senior dental care. 

I’ll always talk about anything that affects our greatest generation. More people need to realize that seniors are what they eat.  So, I’m addressing it today.

The foods that seniors eat impact their cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure directly. Making poor food choices over time can increase the risk for chronic diseases. 

On the other hand, good food choices will help prevent certain diseases in seniors and treat them.

Malnutrition and Its Impact on Oral Health

If a senior suffers from malnutrition, it’s because they are taking in fewer calories than needed or they are not getting the nutrients in the food that has been consumed.

Sadly, malnutrition is likely to affect many seniors in nursing homes. Research shows that 28.6% of seniors staying in nursing homes have suffered from malnutrition and 44% of them were at risk of malnutrition.

These statistics are shocking considering the United States is a developed country.  We need to address malnutrition sooner rather than later! We’ve seen deaths in nursing homes as a result of it.

I am passionate about anything that is remotely associated with senior dental care. This includes nutrition.

Nutrients found in legumes, nuts,  fruits, and vegetables,  improve the body’s ability to fight bacteria. This helps keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Some foods also help prevent tooth decay.  For example, studies show that fresh cranberries can prevent bacteria from forming plaque. 

Dairy products are rich in calcium and vitamin D, which promote healthy teeth and reduces the risk of tooth loss. So, I cannot tell you enough how important nutrition is to the dental health of seniors.

Malnutrition is Common in Nursing Homes

The most common cause of malnutrition in nursing homes is understaffing. 

When choosing a nursing home for your loved ones, ensure that there is one Certified Nursing 

In some cases, it can be 1 CNA to 15 residents per mealtime.   In these instances, the CNAs might not be able to keep up.

Luckily, if you regularly visit your loved one in long-term care, you will be able to see the warning signs.  This includes symptoms like sudden weight loss or weight gain, loss of energy, dark urine, thinning hair, and pale skin.

If you notice that a senior is exhibiting a number of these symptoms, chances are that they are suffering from malnutrition.

And since malnutrition affects senior dental care and other aspects of a senior’s health,  we need to take steps to help them recover before it is too late. For more advice on the ABCs on oral care, invite Sonya Dunbar to speak at your organization. Assistant (CNAs) during meal times for two to three residents. 

Choose the Right Nursing Home

It’s always heartbreaking when you have to make a decision to send a loved one to a long-term care facility. 

Once we get over the initial sadness, we have to make the decision about what facility to place them in. We assume that once we make this decision, our loved one’s nutritional needs will be taken care of. 

So, when you are looking for a nursing home, investigate what foods they feed the seniors in addition to other things that you normally lookout for.

Meal Times Should Be Special

Malnutrition is unnecessary because the solution to the problem is so simple.  Nursing homes simply need to prioritize nutrition and deal with it effectively. 

For example, nursing homes should offer elders all made foods and not convenient foods.  Facilities can also use meal times as an opportunity for residents to meet with their friends.  

Try to encourage family and friends to come to eat the food with the residents as this will reassure them that you are providing good nutritional diets.

Set aside some time to meet with the seniors and give them an opportunity to talk about their nutritional needs.  The elders can talk about the foods that they like and the nursing homes can try to provide that to the best of their ability.

Keep Elders Hydrated

Some elders are embarrassed to have to ask to go to the bathroom. So, they might try to reduce their intake of fluids. The result is that the senior ends up with a urinary tract infection. This will cause them to go to the bathroom more and get medication to treat it.

Not taking enough fluids can also cause constipation.  To stop dehydration, place coolers around the nursing home and encourage people to have jugs around their rooms.

While this is simple and not expensive. With water in their rooms, the seniors will not have any excuse not to consume it.

Screen for Malnutrition

Long-term care facilities should screen elders to make sure they are not at risk of malnutrition.  You can use a screening tool that requires minimal training for nursing home workers to use. 

You can use a body mass index to determine whether the seniors are underweight or overweight. Then take necessary action if they suffer from malnutrition.

For more information on dental care issues that seniors suffer from, Contact Sonya Dunbar. Sonya, also known as the Geriatric Toothfairy,  is an advocate for seniors. She is also a dental hygienist who has practiced for over 29 years in private practice, nursing facilities, and academia.


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