Unless steps are taken to improve dental hygiene in the elderly, oral healthcare will cause problems on the same scale as falls, incontinence and mobility limitations, according to recently published research.

The growing crisis stems from advances in dental care that have allowed more elderly people to retain their teeth. This seemingly positive development poses risks to older people, as gum disease and other oral health issues can lead to even more severe problems such as diabetes and heart disease, according to a research team based out of the Netherlands.

Based on their review of elderly people’s oral health, the researchers concluded that seniors — especially those in long-term care facilities — suffer from a wide array of negative consequences springing from poor oral care. This situation has been widely reported, including in a high-profile New York Times article earlier this year. However, the European researchers sounded especially dire alarms.

“A poor oral health status might be regarded as a new geriatric giant in frail elderly people, which deserves urgent attention of scientists, healthcare providers and policymakers,” they wrote.

The report appears in European Geriatric Medicine