University of Groningen: Better health for elderly aged 75+ with their natural teeth

Individuals aged 75 and above who still have their natural dentition generally are in better health than those of the same age who are edentulous. They are on less medication, have fewer diseases and are less often committed to hospital. These are the findings of research carried out by dentist Mieke Bakker of the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG). She will be awarded a PhD from the University of Groningen for her thesis on 9 June.

Nowadays, it is becoming more and more common for elderly individuals to retain their natural dentition or to be provided with snap-in dentures. With age, the ability to continue looking after yourself well declines, for example because of physical or memory-related issues. The rate of dentist visits also declines for this age group. All of this impacts the oral health of older people, and in turn, poor oral health can pose consequences for their general health. In her research, Mieke Bakker mainly explored the link between oral health and general health. She focused on elderly people aged 75 and above.

Elderly followed for eight years
For her research, Bakker worked with the data of a large number of elderly people across the Netherlands. They were split into three groups: 143,199 elderly people with their natural dentition, 24,923 elderly people with regular dentures and 6,503 elderly people with snap-in dentures. These groups were followed for eight years. Each year, it was measured how often they visited healthcare practitioners, how much medication they were prescribed, how much medicine they used in total, whether they had chronic illnesses and what their healthcare costs amounted to.

Better health among elderly with own teeth
From Bakker’s research, it appears that the elderly people studied who retained their natural dentition were generally in better health than those who were edentulous. They are on less medication and have fewer diseases. They are also committed to hospital less often and need less frequent medical care. For this group of elderly people, their healthcare costs are lower, both in terms of dental as well as general healthcare costs.

Health of elderly with snap-in dentures deteriorates
When elderly people with snap-in dentures first receive their dentures, they are in relatively good health. This is at a comparable level to the general health of elderly people with their natural dentition. But, over the course of time, changes in their health occur: after a few years, their health declines and their health is increasingly comparable to those of the same age with regular dentures.

Dental visits of all those aged 75+ decrease
In addition, the research showed that over a period of eight years, the rate of dental visits among the entire group of elderly people decreased. 67% of elderly people with their natural dentition still visited the dentist. For those with regular dentures, this was 10% and for those with snap-in dentures, 25%.

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