An international study using New Zealand interRAI home care data has revealed the close links between healthy teeth and general good health.

Dr Brigette Meehan

“This study shows the benefits of good oral health for a person’s overall functioning and wellbeing,” interRAI Services Principal Advisor Dr Brigette Meehan, one of the study authors, said in the interRAI 2018/19 Annual Report published this week (10 December 2019).

In the Belgium-led study, New Zealand interRAI clinical assessment data was compared with data from Belgium and five other European countries – Finland, Iceland, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.

“Because interRAI is a standardised assessment, it was straightforward to compare our population with other countries,” Dr Meehan said.

This study among the Euro countries and New Zealand validated the association between oral health and general health among older adults living in rest homes and aged residential care.

This study looked at associations between chewing difficulty, non-intact teeth, and dry mouth; and four aspects of general health being activities of daily living functioning, cognition, depression, and health instability.

The study found that people who had poorer oral health had a higher risk of suffering from poor general health. Difficulty chewing was associated with all general health indicators.

Dry mouth and non-intact teeth was significantly associated with almost all general health indicators.

The study suggested that an oral health assessment and advice from dentists or oral health practitioners should be included in into “the multidisciplinary conversation” when caring for older people.

Treating older people with poor oral health

Identifying older people with oral health problems is essential to provide treatment and monitoring for better general health outcomes.

That is according to a study which examined New Zealand interRAI data and compared this country’s older population with that in European nations.  interRAI, an internationally validated instrument, is the primary clinical assessment used in New Zealand in aged residential care, and for services for older people living in the community.

The study, Cross-Country Validation of the Association Between Oral Health and General Health in Community Dwelling Older Adults, is published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.

”Dr Johanna de Almeida Mello of Belgium, the primary author, has shown that raising awareness of oral health is important for all the countries involved,” co-author and interRAI Fellow Dr Brigette Meehan said.

Importantly, raising awareness about oral health is important to foster care for older adults that keeps them in good health, the study suggests.

interRAI New Zealand data shows only a quarter of older people assessed at home during 2018/19 had obtained a dental exam that year.

Between 9% and 15% of those assessed had conditions such as broken teeth, difficulty chewing or dry mouth.

Men (15%) were more likely to have broken teeth than women (9%). Women were more likely to have dentures (63%) than men (54%).

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