This Dental Issue Is Linked to Higher Dementia Risk

Senior man at the dentist
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If you are an older adult, the risk of dementia and other cognitive impairment increases with each lost tooth, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.

Researchers, led by a team from New York University, reviewed several long-term studies and found participants with more missing teeth had on average a 48% higher risk of cognitive impairment and a 28% higher risk of dementia than other people.

Each lost tooth was linked to a 1.4% increase in the risk of cognitive impairment and a 1.1% increase in the risk of dementia.

All told, those missing at least 20 teeth had a 31% higher risk of cognitive impairment. In addition, those who had lost all their teeth had a 54% higher risk of cognitive impairment and a 40% higher risk of dementia.

Participants who used dentures to compensate for missing teeth did not have a significantly higher risk of dementia, the researchers found.

To reach their findings, researchers looked at more than a dozen earlier studies that included questionnaires, assessments, medical records and information from death certificates. Out of a total of 34,074 participants in the studies, 4,689 had cognitive impairment or dementia.

The earlier research also used medical examinations and self-reported records to assess tooth loss.

The researchers say it is unclear why there is an association between tooth loss and the risk of cognitive decline. In a press release, they added:

“Still, tooth loss can result in problems with chewing that might lead to nutritional deficiencies, chemical imbalances, or changes to the brain that affect brain function. Also, poor oral hygiene might lead to increased bacteria in the mouth and to gum disease, which can cause inflammation and raise the risk of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, leading to dementia.”

It is also possible that tooth loss without the use of dentures indicates lower socioeconomic status and education level, which have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Or, it is possible that people with early cognitive decline might be less likely to maintain oral hygiene, which in turn can result in tooth loss.

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