Chewing Problems

For many mature adults, poor appetite isn't much of a nutrition problem. Instead, tooth loss or mouth pain may be. An astounding number lose all their teeth by age sixty-five. Many also have poorly fitting dentures that cause chewing problems and mouth sores.

What's at the root of oral health problems? Cavities may come to mind first. Yet gum, or periodontal, disease is the most common cause of tooth loss among older adults. As a result, many have missing, loose, or diseased teeth and sore, diseased gums. People with dentures may be able to eat all the foods they've always enjoyed if dentures fit right. If not, the resulting discomfort and mouth pain may keep them from eating a well-balanced diet. Osteoarthritis also can hinder chewing if it affects the lower jaw.

A dry mouth is another problem that may cause

Need more practical, easy ways to eat smart as the years go by? Check here for "how-tos":

  • Boost your appetite if you don't feel hungry—see chapter 2.
  • Find smart ways to lose, gain, or maintain your weight—see chapter 2.
  • Make a personal plan for healthful eating— see chapter 10.
  • Make quick, simple meals if you don't have a lot of energy—see chapter 10.
  • Get more for your food dollar on a fixed income—see chapter 11.
  • Protect yourself from foodborne illness— see chapter 12.
  • Get more nutrition for fewer calories—see chapter 13.
  • Perk up food's flavor with herbs and spices if food no longer tastes as good. Improve food's look, too—see chapter 13.
  • Eat out, yet still match your health needs— see chapter 14.
  • Eat to manage health problems—see chapter 22.
  • Get easy, personalized tips from a nutrition expert—see chapter 24.

chewing and swallowing difficulties, especially if food is dry and hard to chew. As people get older, they may not have as much saliva flow to help soften food and wash it down. Medications, some health problems, and treatment such as chemotherapy also may decrease saliva flow or cause chewing and swallowing problems. See "Cancer Treatment: Handling Side Effects"in chapter 22.

If you have chewing problems, make sure oral problems don't become a barrier to good nutrition.

  • See your dentist, or go to a dentist who specializes in care for older adults. Many oral health problems can be treated. And dentures that don't fit properly should be adjusted.
  • Choose softer foods that are easier to chew. Chop foods well to reduce your risk of choking. All five food groups of MyPyramid have foods that are softer and easier to eat. See "MyPyramid: Your Healthful Eating Guide"in chapter 10.
  • Grains Group: cooked cereal, cooked rice, cooked pasta, soft bread or rolls, softer crackers
  • Fruit Group: fruit juice, cooked or canned fruit, avocados, bananas, grapefruit and orange sections, soft fruit
  • Vegetable Group: vegetable juice, cooked vegetables, mashed potatoes, salads with soft vegetables, chopped lettuce
  • Milk Group: milk, cheese, yogurt, pudding, ice cream, milk shakes
  • Meat and Beans Group: chopped, lean meat, chopped chicken or turkey, canned fish, tender cooked fish, eggs, tofu, hummus, peanut butter
  • Drink water or other fluids with meals and snacks to make swallowing easier.
  • Consult a registered dietitian. Together you can plan for foods that you can eat comfortably without compromising your nutrient intake.

There's good news! Tooth loss and chewing difficulty aren't inevitable parts of aging. Good oral care— starting now, whatever your age—can help you keep the teeth you were born with. See "Keep Teeth and Gums Healthy" in chapter 5.

Gum disease is highly preventable. Proper brushing, daily flossing, and regular cleaning by a dentist or a hygienist can keep gum disease at bay. If you can, have your teeth cleaned twice a year, and perhaps more often if you have gum disease. For more about gum disease, see "Keep Smiling: Prevent Gum Disease" in chapter 22.

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