Oral health problems and risk of incident disability in two studies of older adults in the United Kingdom and the United States

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2022 Jul;70(7):2080-2092. doi: 10.1111/jgs.17792. Epub 2022 Apr 19.


Background: Preventing oral health problems can be crucial for maintaining physical independence in older adults. We aimed to examine the associations of a range of oral health problems with incidence of disability in older adults.

Methods: We used prospective data from the British Regional Health Study (BRHS) (N = 2147, 71-92 years), and the Health, Aging and Body Composition (HABC) study (USA) (N = 3075, 71-80 years). Oral health measures included tooth loss, periodontal disease, self-rated oral health, and self-reported dry mouth. Participants were followed for onset of disability over a follow-up period of 3 years. Onset of disability was assessed through new cases of mobility limitations, activities of daily living (ADL), and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL). Logistic regression was performed to calculate the odds of incident disability.

Results: In the BRHS, tooth loss was associated with greater odds of mobility limitations and ADL difficulties. Periodontal disease was associated with greater incidence of mobility limitations. Self-report of ≥3 dry mouth symptoms was associated with increased odds of incident mobility limitations and ADL difficulties (OR = 2.08, 95% CI 1.27-3.42; OR = 1.73, 95% CI 1.03-2.90). Fair/poor self-rated oral health was associated with greater incidence of IADL difficulties. In the HABC study, complete tooth loss was associated with greater incidence of mobility limitations (OR = 1.86, 95% CI 1.13-3.06), and fair/poor self-rated oral health was associated with increased odds of incident ADL difficulties (OR = 1.42, 95% CI 1.04-1.94).

Conclusions: Oral health problems in older adults, particularly tooth loss, self-reported dry mouth and self-rated oral health were associated with greater incidence of disability. Poor oral health plays a potentially important role in the development of disability in older populations, which in turn is an essential part of quality of life and healthy aging.

Keywords: dental problems; disability; older adults; physical independence; self-reported.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Humans
  • Mobility Limitation
  • Oral Health
  • Periodontal Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Tooth Loss* / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Xerostomia* / epidemiology