Too Many of Our Seniors are Starving

Malnutrition may be the silent killer of many seniors. In fact, too many of our seniors are starving – a deplorable situation in the US. Malnutrition weakens the entire body, creating greater susceptibility to old man tooth loss -- pixabay free commercial use pub domain people-875376 640illness, to falls, and to loss of muscle that reduces physical activity. The Huffington Post reported in March 2015 that one in three seniors entering a hospital is malnourished. This occurs despite the number of food assistance programs available to them. []

Malnutrition among seniors in America typically results from a number of contributing factors.

In an article entitled “Malnutrition and Ageing” published in January 2006, M Hickson presented a list of factors contributing to malnutrition in seniors. He divided the factors into three groups, which is helpful.

Risk factors for malnutrition

Medical factors

  • Poor appetite
  • Poor dentition, other oral problems and dysphagia
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Respiratory disorders, for example, emphysema
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, for example, malabsorption
  • Endocrine disorders, for example, diabetes, thyrotoxicosis
  • Neurological disorders, for example, cerebrovascular accident, Parkinson's disease
  • Infections, for example, urinary tract infection, chest infection
  • Physical disability, for example, arthritis, poor mobility
  • Drug interactions, for example, digoxin, metformin, antibiotics, etc
  • Other disease states, for example, cancer

Lifestyle and social factors

  • Lack of knowledge about food, cooking, and nutrition
  • Isolation/loneliness
  • Poverty
  • Inability to shop or prepare food


  • Confusion
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Bereavement
  • Anxiety


Many of these contributing factors can be overcome with effort. It is noteworthy that the second factor listed in medical factors is issues of dental and oral health.

Dental and Oral Health Factors

A number of dental and oral health factors may contribute to malnutrition. Among the dental and oral health factors contributing to starvation among seniors are typically age-related; other factors issues of dental care also contribute; still others are disease-related. Dental issues make it very difficult to consume proper nutrition because one cannot chew the needed foods.

As we grow older, particularly when we have bone, joint or muscular problems, it can become difficult for seniors to maintain thorough dental care. This leads to decay, loose teeth, lost teeth, pain and difficulty chewing. If someone is having difficulty brushing and flossing, caregivers can help them perform this task. In other cases, one might use an adaptive product that will make brushing easier. If you or a loved one is having difficulty with dental care, talk with your dentist about your options.

Some changes in the mouth are common. These usually result from natural aging processes and a lifetime of normal wear and tear. When the gums begin to recede – source of the expression about elders growing long in the tooth – dental care is particularly important to treat the gums and to protect the roots of the teeth. Nutrition is also important in preserving and protecting teeth. Malnutrition causes teeth to weaken, decay, and fall out. The next step, difficulty eating, engenders malnutrition. This vicious circle and be quite damaging. This process, however, can be mitigated by working closely with your dentist to schedule regular treatment. It will also be important to take all steps possible to improve nutrition.

Some diseases and conditions also contribute to dental and oral health. These include oral cancer, TMJ and other jaw damage, and even the medications one takes for other conditions. Your dentist can help you develop a treatment and protection plan.

 Among the factors making chewing difficult are loose teeth, missing teeth, issues with the jaw, and ill-fitting dentures or partials. All of these dental issues can make chewing, especially chewing certain foods, difficult and painful. For example, when one loses a tooth it should be replaced. Failure to do so allows surrounding teeth to loosen and move to fill the space. Without treatment, the process becomes self-perpetuating. The sensitivity of gum disease, especially when advanced, also contributes to eating difficulties.

Dentures, bridges and partials can also make it difficult to chew. Loose or ill-fitting dentures allow food and bacterial to collect beneath the denture, contributing to infection and further gum and tooth damage. Ill-fitting dentures and partials rub the gums and create sensitive areas that are painful. Chewing aggravates the pain. It is very difficult to eat anything if you remove your dentures in an effort to eat something. It is more difficult to chew when a partial or denture is loose. If the two sides of a denture or partial are not working together, it will loosen one side of the denture, making it even more difficult to eat. The number of people with a partial, bridge or denture increases as one ages.

Seniors may experience a range of damage, disease, or other dental problems that make it difficult to eat. Talk honestly with your dentist about the difficulties you or someone in your care may be having. You might be surprised to learn how much help your dentist can be. In most cases, far too many of our seniors are malnourished or starving due to dental and oral health issues. Choose a dentist who will work with you without judgment or accusing. Then work with your dentist regularly to protect and preserve the teeth and the ability to eat. Call your dentist today.