Why Do Old People Chew For No Reason?

As observed in daily life and confirmed by various studies, elderly individuals often exhibit a peculiar chewing motion, even when not eating – a phenomenon known as phantom chewing.

Why Do Old People Chew For No Reason

Why do old people chew for no reason?

Phantom chewing is a curious habit seen commonly in the elderly. Often dismissed as a mere peculiarity, this behavior is widely observed at rest, devoid of any food intake. However, the cause of this behavior has more depth than one might think.

Understanding the Phenomenon

According to a report by PMC, one prevalent theory suggests this phenomenon occurs due to a lack of lower teeth. Losing their functional teeth confines the tongue, triggering a reflexive, continuous chewing motion. This behavior can also be a symptom of neurodegenerative conditions and potential malnutrition. Highlighting its relevance as an essential facet of geriatric care, it’s essential to decipher and address its underlying causes.

Dental Health and Tooth Loss

As per the global health survey in 2019, untreated cavities in permanent teeth are the most common health issue among the elderly. These dental health issues can have a significant impact on their chewing behavior.

The Impact of Dental Health on Chewing Behavior

Poor dental health, particularly the loss of teeth and other oral conditions, can lead to a dearth of masticatory activity. In several animal studies, this absence of chewing activity has been connected to memory loss.

Exploring the Relationship Between Tooth Loss and Chewing Motion

Tooth loss in the elderly is a perennial issue. This, combined with a diet mainly of soft foods, could explain why some seniors may appear to chew without any apparent reason. This involuntary motion is a direct correlation to their oral health and the loss of their teeth.

Neuromuscular Response and Lack of Teeth

As individuals age, there are various changes in the oral cavity, especially when teeth are lost. This event can lead to old people chewing for no apparent reason, a phenomenon backed by recent scientific findings.

How the Oral Cavity Adjusts to the Loss of Teeth

Sudden loss of teeth, often experienced by the elderly, can weaken oral muscles, gum infections and bone resorption. As a compensatory neuromuscular response, the individual may start to chew without food in the mouth, seeking to exercise the oral muscles.

The Role of Neuromuscular Response in Chewing Motion

In tandem with oral health, the neuromuscular system plays a significant part in the unconscious chewing motion. Research from a study on people with dementia suggests that masticatory muscle training could improve chewing efficiency and bite force. Thereby, minor mastication exercises could help enhance oral health among elderly individuals.

Dentures and Adaptation

Many individuals experience tooth loss with age and need to adapt to using dentures. Dentures can address the problem of tooth loss by replacing the missing teeth and improving the individual’s ability to eat and speak.

The Use of Dentures as a Solution to Tooth Loss

Dentures offer a solution for those who’ve lost their teeth for various reasons, such as periodontal diseases, tooth decay, or injury. They restore the appearance and oral functions of the individual.

Challenges and Restlessness in Wearing Dentures

However, adjusting to dentures can be challenging for some. The unnatural feel of the prosthesis often leads to restlessness and unnecessary chewing movements even when not eating. It’s crucial to regularly communicate these discomforts to dentists for appropriate adjustments and solutions. With patience and regular care, denture wearers can adapt to their new ‘teeth’ and improve their quality of life.

Other Factors and Explanations

With aging, the question arises why some older people appear to chew for no reason. Some possible explanations could be rare neurological conditions and dryness or salivation issues.

Rare Neurological Conditions and Grinding of Teeth

In some cases, elderly individuals may experience rare neurological conditions like bruxism. According to the Mayo Clinic, bruxism, or teeth grinding, may unconsciously occur during wakefulness or sleep, and is more common among individuals with other sleep disorders.

Dryness and Salivation Issues as Possible Triggers

Another potential explanation is the onset of dry mouth. Older adults may encounter salivation issues, leading to a dry mouth condition, where the salivary glands in the mouth don’t produce enough saliva. This may trigger a natural response in the older individual to chew or grind to stimulate salivation.


On closing, understanding why older people chew for no apparent reason can be quite enlightening. It’s a phenomenon often associated with “Phantom Chewing” or “Geriatric Chewing”. It is commonly linked to age-related neural and health developments. Nonetheless, seeking medical consultation is advised if such behavior becomes pronounced or frequent. This will tackle potential underlying health conditions. Aging-associated diseases can manifest in various ways, and understanding these signs helps in providing better care for our elderly loved ones.

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