This article was checked for nutritional accuracy by: Kathryn Bubeck, Registered Dietician
An estimated 26% of adults over the age of 75 have lost all their teeth. (1) Even when teeth are replaced by dentures, tooth loss can have a significant impact on a person’s diet. For seniors, poor oral health can lead to malnourishment. (2)
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to promote good nutrition for elderly adults without teeth, even if they have difficulty chewing or swallowing. These are some of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet after tooth loss.
1. Know What to Stay Away From
Choking can be a serious risk for seniors that have lost their teeth. In 2015, there were more than 5,000 choking deaths, and 2,848 of those deaths were people over the age of 74. (3) You should familiarize yourself with foods that are potential choking hazards so that you can avoid them.
Hard, chewy, and slippery foods can all be dangerous, even when they’re cut into small pieces. Foods that are very dry also pose a risk. These foods can stick to the mouth or the throat and can cause a person to choke long after they’ve finished a meal.
2. Avoid Dry Mouth
Not only can dry foods be dangerous, but dry mouth can be a risk as well. Normally, the mouth and throat produce saliva when you chew (4), ensuring that the mouth is fully moistened. This process doesn’t always occur for adults without teeth, which is why it’s important to take other steps to prevent dry mouth.
Xylitol, which is found in many mouthwashes, can help to stimulate saliva production. (5) Rising with an alcohol-free mouthwash before meals can promote good oral health and lubricate the mouth at the same time. Sipping on water is also an easy and effective way to reduce the risk of dry mouth. Dehydration is a common issue for seniors (6), and a water bottle with a straw is a great way to prevent this problem.
3. Choose the Right Soft Foods
While soft foods are the best option for seniors that have lost their teeth, it’s important to choose the right kinds of foods. It’s common for older adults to experience a decline in appetite (7), and the challenges of eating without teeth may cause seniors to eat even less.
Because of this, it’s important to select nutrient-dense foods that will provide seniors with the essential vitamins and minerals they need. Some of the best soft foods for seniors include:
- Cottage cheese
- Creamy nut butters
- Mashed potatoes
When older adults are eating small portions, it’s all the more important to choose foods with care. Luckily, there are plenty of nutrient-packed foods that can be safely eaten without teeth.
4. Start Steaming Vegetables
Vegetables are packed with a wide range of nutrients, making them an essential component of any diet. In fact, experts recommend eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. (8) Unfortunately, many raw vegetables can’t be safely eaten by adults that have lost their teeth.
There are many ways to soften vegetables, including boiling them, but steaming veggies may be the better option. When vegetables are boiled, they lose flavor and nutrients. (9) With steaming, the flavor and nutrients in the vegetable remain intact. It’s a great way for seniors to enjoy a wide range of veggies.
5. Moisten Foods Before They’re Served
As mentioned previously, dry foods can be dangerous, especially when they’re being served to someone without teeth. That’s why it’s smart to add additional moisture to foods before they’re served. Gravy, sauces, and syrups can add more flavor to foods and keep them from being too dry.
In some cases, a topping can also be a way to pack extra nutrients into a meal. For example, it’s possible to make gravy from healthy foods like mushrooms, bell peppers, and chicken. If you’re worried that the food you’re serving is too dry, why not add a topping?
6. Replace Meals With Nutritional Drinks
Elderly adults without teeth don’t have to stick to a liquid diet, but they may want to replace some of their meals with nutritional drinks. Many nutritional drinks are specifically designed to be a healthy, well-balanced meal replacement. Not only do these beverages contain essential vitamins and minerals, but they can be an excellent source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates.
These drinks and shakes are a fast and easy way to ensure that seniors are getting the calories and nutrition that they need. However, it’s important to remember that the best nutritional drinks are designed to supplement a diet, not replace food completely. You should also look closely at the formula of various drinks. Choose beverages that are made from whole foods and aren’t loaded with sugar.
7. Make Green Smoothies
Green smoothies have surged in popularity in recent years. For many adults, these beverages are the ideal way to start the day. While green smoothies are enjoyed by people of all ages, they are a particularly useful way to provide valuable nutrients to seniors that can’t chew.
These smoothies get their color from dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard. These vegetables are loaded with vitamins K, C, and A. They also contain phytochemicals, which may improve immune system function and reduce the risk of heart disease. (10)
Smoothies can be used as a homemade nutritional drink for seniors by including healthy ingredients, including nut butters, green veggies, frozen fruit, and coconut water.
8. Try Blended Soups
With a blender, you can convert virtually any soup into a meal that’s safe for someone without teeth. Simply prepare the soup, give it a chance to cool, and then puree it in the blender. You can even pour the soup into bags and reheat it when you need a fast and healthy meal.
Soups can be packed with vegetables, lean protein, legumes, and other healthy ingredients. Serving soup is a wonderful way to add more variety into a senior’s diets. Studies suggest that soup can also leave you feeling full for longer (11), making it an especially satisfying option.
9. Use a Slow Cooker
Meats and beans are both excellent sources of protein, which the body needs to produce antibodies and repair and maintain tissue.(12) Unfortunately, when cooked normally, these ingredients can be tough and difficult for someone without teeth to chew.
A slow cooker is the ideal way to tackle this problem. By cooking meats and beans slowly over a long period of time, you can make sure that they’re soft enough for seniors to eat. Slow cookers are also a convenient option for caregivers. You can toss ingredients into the appliance at the start of the day, and they’ll be ready to serve by mealtime.
10. Offer Options and Variety
It’s not unusual for older adults to refuse food entirely, even if it’s something they can eat. Not only do seniors typically have smaller appetites, but meals can be stressful and frustrating for many older adults. When someone has no say over what they eat, they may choose not to eat anything at all.
That’s why it’s so important to offer choices to elderly adults. By freezing food and having a variety of meal options available, you can ensure that seniors still have access to meals that they enjoy, even if they can no longer eat many of the foods that they love.
Tooth loss can be difficult for adults, especially when it limits what they can safely eat. Many seniors that have experienced tooth loss aren’t getting enough calories or taking in the nutrients that they need. That’s why it’s important to implement these nutrition tips for seniors. It’s possible to eat a balanced diet even when you can no longer chew many foods.
About the Expert
Because I strive to provide you with accurate information, I had this article fact-checked by Kathryn Bubeck, RD, LDN a registered dietician in North Carolina. She has dual bachelor degrees in Nutrition and Health Behavior Management and is currently pursuing a medical degree with a focus on oncology.