New study links tooth loss to increased risk of dementia

It may sound somewhat incongruous, but a newly published study has revealed a potential link between dental health and mental health in older people.

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, Xiang Qi (PhD researcher at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York University) and three colleagues identified a link between the loss of teeth and a higher risk of dementia.

The find comes on top of the latest statistics published by Dementia Australia, which show that dementia is the second leading cause of death of Australians, and the leading cause of death for Aussie women.

Read: The early life dementia indicator you may have missed

In their report, Dose-Response Meta-Analysis on Tooth Loss with the Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia, Xiang Qi and his colleagues analysed the results of 14 studies involving 34,074 participants and identified 4689 cases with diminished cognitive function.

They found that for each additional tooth loss, there was an associated 1.4 per cent increase in the relative risk of cognitive impairment and a 1.1 per cent elevated relative risk of dementia. “Edentulous [lacking teeth] participants faced a 1.54 times higher risk of cognitive impairment and a 1.40 times higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia.”

Read: Five myths and facts about keeping your teeth healthy

Although the report linking poor oral health with dementia has only recently been published, it is not the first time a link has been made between dental health and mental health, In 2016, a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the US discussed the “two-way association between oral and mental health” and concluded that the increased focus on the physical health of people with severe mental illness should include consideration of oral health.

What is the cause of the link between fewer teeth and dementia?

For now, that remains something of a $64,000 question. The researchers noted that the reason for the association between tooth loss and the risk of cognitive decline is unclear. Speculation included the possibility that 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.

Read: Cataract surgery linked with lessened dementia risk

Other possibilities put forward included:

  • 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.
  • Tooth loss without the use of dentures might also be an indication of lower socioeconomic status and lower education level, both of which are independently linked to an increased risk of dementia.
  • Missing teeth might be an early sign of cognitive impairment. People with cognitive decline might be less likely to keep up with oral hygiene, leading to tooth loss.

You’ve have had teeth removed, should you be concerned?

In short, no, but the fact that you have lost one or more teeth could be indicative of poor health practices. The World Health Organization has published a number of recommendations for reducing your chances of dementia or other forms of cognitive decline. These include being physically active, not smoking, maintaining a balanced diet, drinking alcohol in moderation, partaking in social activities and looking after your weight.

Have you lost any teeth or had them removed recently? Are you concerned about the prospect of dementia? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

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