• ageing;
  • muscle strength;
  • dental health;
  • periodontium

Objective:  The number of remaining teeth may indicate the extent of life-long exposure to inflammation, a known risk factor for muscle loss and consequent disability. The aim was to study dental health status as a risk factor for muscle strength loss in very old people.

Design:  Cross-sectional and prospective cohort study over a 5-year follow-up.

Setting:  Research laboratory.

Participants:  One hundred and ninety-three 80-year-old people participated in the baseline examinations. Five years later, 79 survivors were retested.

Main outcome measures:  Number of remaining teeth, presence of periodontitis and handgrip strength.

Results:  At baseline, grip strength of men correlated positively with number of teeth but not with the presence of periodontitis. In women, the cross-sectional associations were not statistically significant. In the prospective analyses, the presence of periodontitis at baseline showed a clear association with a steeper decline in handgrip over the 5-year follow-up in both sexes. The values adjusted for gender, height, weight, number of chronic conditions and physical activity were −28.3% (SE 5.7) among those with periodontitis vs. −11.9% (SE 3.1, p = 0.015) among those with healthy gingiva. No association between the number of teeth at baseline and change in grip strength over 5 years was observed.

Conclusions:  The presence of oral inflammation may lead to loss in muscle strength increasing the risk of disability. Therefore, good dental care throughout the life span may decrease risk of disability in old age.