A new analysis led by a group of researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing shows tooth loss as a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia. This analysis was also published in The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (JAMDA). However, it is also seen that this risk is not as significant in older adults with dentures. This suggests that prompt treatment of lost teeth with dentures and other dental prostheses may have a protective effect against cognitive decline.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six adults aged 65 or above have lost all their teeth. Past studies have shown a connection between tooth loss and reduced cognitive functions. Many researchers have formulated various explanations for this link. One theory suggests that with missing teeth, difficulty in chewing arises. This leads to inadequate diet and contributes to nutritional deficiencies, which in turn contributes to changes in the brain.
With advancing research in the health sector, a connection between gum diseases, which leads to teeth loos and cognitive decline, is also proposed. Moreover, teeth loss may also suggest a socioeconomic disadvantage that is also shown to be a risk factor of cognitive decline.
The study’s senior author Dr. Bei Wu stressed the importance of a more profound understanding between poor health and cognitive decline. Many people are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and there is an opportunity to improve oral health throughout their lifetime.
Wu and her team conducted a meta-analysis with the help of longitudinal studies pertaining to tooth loss and cognitive impairment. They carried out 14 studies in their analysis which involved over 34,074 adults and 4,689 people with diminished cognitive function.
The analysis found that adults with tooth loss had a 1.48 times greater risk of developing cognitive impairment and 1.28 times higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia even after controlling all other factors.
However, another point of interest to note here is that adults with missing teeth were more likely to have cognitive impairment if they did not have dentures compared to those who did. Further details of the analysis also show that the association between tooth loss and cognitive impairment was not as significant in people with dentures.
The researchers also carried out an analysis using a subset of eight studies to see if there was a “dose-response” association between tooth loss and cognitive decline. Simply put, they wanted to see if a greater number of missing teeth is linked with a greater risk for cognitive decline. This study confirmed this relationship by showing that each missing tooth was associated with a 1.4 percent increased risk of cognitive impairment and 1.1 percent increased risk of being affected with dementia.
The findings of this “dose-response” relationship between the number of lost teeth and the risk of reduced cognitive function strengthen the evidence linking tooth loss to cognitive impairment. These findings also reinforce the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene to prevent gum diseases and eventual tooth loss.
Journal Reference: Xiang Qi, Zheng Zhu, Brenda L. Plassman, Bei Wu. Dose-Response Meta-Analysis on Tooth Loss With the Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.jamda.2021.05.009
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