The Eating Experience: Adaptive and Maladaptive Strategies of Older Adults with Tooth Loss

JDR Clin Trans Res. 2019 Jul;4(3):217-228. doi: 10.1177/2380084419827532. Epub 2019 Feb 28.


Objective: To explore the eating experience and eating-related quality of life (ERQOL) of community-dwelling older adults with tooth loss.

Method: Nineteen older adults from the clinics of a northeast US dental school who met inclusion criteria (>65 y old, <20 teeth, and no dentures) composed the sample. For this mixed methods study, demographic characteristics, number and location of teeth, Mini Nutritional Assessment-Short Form score, and anthropometrics data were collected; semistructured interviews were conducted to collect in-depth information about the eating experience and ERQOL. Thematic analysis was completed with NVivo 12 software (QSR International).

Results: Participants' mean age was 71.3 y (SD = 5.2); 52.6% (n = 10) were women; 63.2% (n = 12) were Black or African American. The mean Mini Nutritional Assessment-Short Form score of 12.1 was reflective of normal nutrition status; 31.6% (n = 6) of patients were at risk for malnutrition or were malnourished. Fifteen percent (n = 3) were fully edentulous; 84.2% (n = 16) had 1 to 19 teeth (mean = 10.8, SD = 6.5). The 2 overarching themes identified were adaptive and maladaptive behavioral responses to tooth loss. Adaptive strategies included modification in food preparation and cooking methods, food texture selection, meal timing, and approaches to chewing. Maladaptive behaviors included food avoidance and limiting eating and smiling in front of others. Psychosocial factors, including finances, limited food choices and ERQOL, whereas the support of family and friends enhanced ERQOL according to participants.

Conclusion: Older adults with tooth loss exhibit both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors that affect their eating experience, dietary intake, and ERQOL. While many expressed positive adaptive coping strategies, they also described maladaptive behaviors, including avoidance of healthy foods and limiting eating during social interactions, which may affect their nutritional status and overall health and well-being. Further research is needed to explore how duration and severity of tooth loss influence these behaviors and risk of malnutrition. Interprofessional approaches are needed to support positive adaptation and coping with tooth loss.

Knowledge transfer statement: The results of this study can be used by health professionals treating patients with tooth loss in an effort to improve their eating experience and eating-related quality of life. The findings provide data to support further studies and the need for evidence-based guidelines and educational materials to meet the unique needs of older adults with tooth loss.

Keywords: dentition; diet; elderly; food and nutrition; nutrition assessment; quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mouth, Edentulous*
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutritional Status
  • Quality of Life
  • Tooth Loss*