New research suggests that oral health deteriorates during hospitalisation and is associated with an increased risk of malnutrition in older patients.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology1 provides the latest evidence that oral health is being overlooked in hospitals, with potential serious consequences. The research examined the oral health of 162 patients on arrival and two weeks later and discovered an increase in gum disease and levels of plaque.

Nurse writing down into a fileThe research also found that ‘the hospitals had no policies in place for routine oral health practices, and that no members of the hospital teams assessed the patients’ oral health conditions during the hospitalisation period’.

A French study into the oral health of hospitalised elderly patients also identified a number of problems. The research found that poor oral health could be linked to a negative effect on nutritional status2, highlighting the need for better food choices for patients.

In previous studies, poor oral health and dysfunction has been linked to a negative effect on nutritional status. There are also consequences for quality of life, well-being and personal dignity during hospital stays.

The research points to several potential reasons for the decline in oral health during hospitalisation including the low priority given to oral care provision and the implementation of improper oral care regimes, both as a direct consequence of hospitalisation.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, thinks both studies point to a clear need for oral health to be a greater priority during hospital stays.

Dr Carter said: “In a challenging hospital environment it may be inevitable that oral care is seen as a low priority, but it is clear that more needs to be done. Low priority is given to oral care provision, which includes the implementation of proper oral care regimes.

“There are guidelines for the provision of oral care in hospital settings, but as the research points out, there is limited detail for carers. The help of close family and friends during hospital stays can make a difference to this aspect of their care and well-being and more should be done to encourage their involvement.

“It is also clear from the Campaign for Better Hospital Food initiative that standards need to be improved. There is a link between nutrition and oral health, and we call on the Government to implement compulsory hospital food standards.”

Hospital TeamAlex Jackson, Co-ordinator, Campaign for Better Hospital Food, added: “Many patients complain about losing weight in hospital because of the lack of appetising, nutritious food on offer to them, and it comes as no surprise that this problem might be made worse by inadequate oral care available to them during their stay. Hospital meals in England are often poor quality and unhealthy and inappropriate to the needs of the patient. This is particularly unacceptable for patients suffering from dental health issues who may not wish, or be able, to eat what’s on offer if it is difficult to chew and contains lots of sugar, salt and saturated fat. The government must help to improve oral care in our hospitals by ensuring that patient meals are healthy, freshly prepared and presented in a manner which helps patients to eat.”

Anyone who wants advice about the oral care of a loved one in hospital can contact our Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188. The line is staffed by qualified dental nurses, who will be able to advise how best to provide oral care during hospitalisation and what to do when the patient is discharged and returns home.


1.Sousa LLA, Silva Filho WLSe, Mendes RF, Moita Neto JM, Prado Junior RR. Oral health of patients under short hospitalization period: observational study. J Clin Periodontol 2014; doi:10.1111/jcpe.12250.

2.Gerodontology 2014; doi: 10.1111/ger.12123 Relationships between oral health, dysphagia and undernutrition in hospitalised elderly patients

Posted on the News section of the British Dental Health Foundation Website


Oral Health Foundation

The Oral Health Foundation is a charity that works to improve oral health by providing education, advice, and support to millions of people every year, changing lives for the better. Our mission is to support others in achieving a healthier life through better oral health. Our vision is to live in a world where everybody has a healthy mouth and is free of dental disease. Poor oral health can have a harmful and devastating effect on a person’s life – both for their physical health and mental wellbeing. We are determined to help more people achieve good oral health and have a better quality of life. Sadly, oral disease remains common, across the life course. We are taking the challenge to reduce the harm caused by poor oral health and the responsibility to create a healthier future for everybody. We do this because we believe that everybody deserves to have good oral health. To make sure this happens, by 2024, we will:

    • Work towards decreasing the prevalence of oral disease across communities.
    • Increase the number of people accessing our help and information services.
    • Diversify our range of resources to reach more communities.
    • Successfully campaign for policies which help people achieve healthier lives.
    • Generate new and nurture existing income streams that enable us to deliver our charitable objectives.

We are going to achieve success by:

    • Running awareness campaigns like National Smile Month and Mouth Cancer Action Month.
    • Giving anybody who needs it direct support through our Dental Helpline.
    • Influencing policy on subjects like dental access, sugar, and tobacco.
    • Providing consumer advice on oral health care products and working alongside manufacturers to make sure products do what they claim to do.
    • Creating resources and information that communicates positive oral health messages.
    • Working alongside others who share our passion for health and wellbeing.

To find out more about us, visit our website at

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