Objectives: The aim of this scoping review was threefold: 1. to identify existing definitions of oral frailty and similar terms in gerodontology literature; 2. to assess the oral frailty definitions and analyze whether these are well formulated on a conceptual level; and 3. in the absence of existing definitions meeting the criteria for good conceptual definitions, a new conceptual definition of oral frailty will be presented.
Methods: A search was performed in electronic databases and internet search engines. Studies explaining or defining oral frailty or similar terms were of interest. A software-aided procedure was performed to screen titles and abstracts and identify definitions of oral frailty and similar terms. We used a guide to assess the quality of the oral frailty definitions on methodological, linguistic, and content-related criteria.
Results: Of the 1,528 screened articles, 47 full-texts were reviewed. Thirteen of these contained seven definitions of oral frailty and ten definitions of similar terms. We found that all definitions of oral frailty contain the same or equivalent characteristics used to define the concepts of ’oral health’, ’deterioration of oral function’, and ’oral hypofunction’. Between the seven definitions, oral frailty is described with a different number and combination of characteristics, resulting in a lack of conceptual consistency. None of the definitions of oral frailty met all criteria.
Conclusion: According to our analysis, the current definitions of oral frailty cannot be considered ’good’ conceptual definitions. Therefore, we proposed a new conceptual definition: Oral frailty is the age-related functional decline of orofacial structures.