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Tooth loss is a risk factor for cognitive impairment, dementia

Adults with more tooth loss may have a higher risk of developing cognitive impairment and being diagnosed with dementia, a new study suggested

Practicing good dental care or oral hygiene can not only keep your gums and teeth healthy, but also prevent many medical problems. Maintaining a good oral health may help preserve cognitive function. According to a study, tooth loss is a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia and the risk of cognitive decline increases with each tooth lost. However, the study didn't find significant risk among older adults with dentures, which suggests that timely treatment with dentures may protect against cognitive decline.

The study, led by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, was published in JAMDA: The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

Tooth loss and cognitive decline link explained

The connection between tooth loss and diminished cognitive function had already been highlighted in previous studies, with a range of possible explanations. Researchers said that missing teeth can cause difficulty chewing, which may lead to nutritional deficiencies or promote changes in the brain. Another explanation backed by a growing body of research is the link between gum disease -- a leading cause of tooth loss -- and cognitive decline. Additionally, tooth loss is associated with life-long socioeconomic disadvantages, which are also risk factors for cognitive decline.

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Results of analysis of 14 studies

To gain a deeper understanding of the connection between poor oral health and cognitive decline, Bei Wu, Dean's Professor in Global Health at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and co-director of the NYU Aging Incubator and her colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies involving a total of 34,074 adults and 4,689 cases with diminished cognitive function. They found that -

  • Adults with more tooth loss had a 1.48 times higher risk of developing cognitive impairment and 1.28 times higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia, even after controlling for other factors.
  • A greater number of missing teeth was also associated with a higher risk for cognitive decline. Each additional missing tooth was associated with a 1.4 percent increased risk of cognitive impairment and 1.1 percent increased risk of being diagnosed with dementia.

Interestingly, they found no significant association between tooth loss and cognitive impairment when participants had dentures. Adults missing teeth were at higher risk of having cognitive impairment if they did not have dentures (23.8 percent) compared to those with dentures (16.9 percent).

Wu concluded that their findings underscore the importance of maintaining good oral health and its role in helping to preserve cognitive function.

Tips to improve your oral health

  • Brush at least twice a day, once in the morning and once in the night.
  • Do not brush your teeth soon after eating or drinking acidic foods as it can increase the risk of tooth abrasion. Wait for at least 30 minutes after meals.
  • Change your brush every three months or when its bristles start to fray.
  • Brush your teeth for two to three minutes. Don't overdo as doing so can erode your tooth enamel.
  • Do not forget to clean your tongue and floss.

You also need to visit your dentist regularly to keep your teeth healthy and prevent other complications, associated with poor oral health.

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