Keep that Toothy Grin: Dementia and Tooth Loss

Contributing Factor? Dementia

One more reason has been discovered for paying regular visits to your dentist: tooth loss may help to predict the later development of dementia, says a report published in the October 2007 issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association. Earlier studies showed a correlation between poor oral health and dementia, though few researchers had looked at the relationship to determine whether or not poor dental health may be a contributing factor in the later development of the disease.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and College of Dentistry, Lexington decided to find out if poor oral health might precede the onset of dementia. They studied data from 144 participants in the Nun Study, a larger study on the affects of aging and Alzheimer’s disease using as its participants the Catholic sisters of the School Sisters branch of Notre Dame. Scientists analyzed dental records along with the results of annual cognitive tests from the order’s Milwaukee province. The nuns participating in this study were between the ages of 75 and 98 years old.

In their report, authors of the study wrote,  “Of the participants who did not have dementia at the first examination, those with few teeth (zero to nine) had an increased risk of developing dementia during the study compared with those who had 10 or more teeth.”

In the past, dentists thought that those people suffering from dementia had poorer dental hygiene than that of the general population and were therefore at an increased risk for losing teeth. However, before now, dentists had only looked at the difficulty of the cognitively impaired to perform dental tasks such as daily brushing and flossing. Dentists hadn’t realized that poor dental health may be the actual cause of the development of dementia, giving us yet another excuse to have regular dental checkups and visits to the dental hygienist.

Causal or Casual?  Reasons For Tooth Loss

The researchers proposed many hypotheses for the relationship between tooth loss and dementia, including possible connections between early nutritional deficiencies, periodontal disease, or chronic diseases that may result in the simultaneous loss of teeth and damage to the brain. They do note that the study does not prove that tooth loss plays a definitive role in bringing on dementia. State the authors, “It is not clear from our findings whether the association is causal or casual.”

The scientists urge the scientific world to conduct further studies on this promising topic.

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