The link between tooth loss and dementia has been explored, with researchers finding that with every tooth lost, the risk of cognitive impairment increases.

Researchers from New York University also found there was less risk amongst older people using dentures, suggesting timely intervention with use of dentures could help to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Several reasons for the link between tooth loss and dementia have been put forward by experts. One theory is that missing teeth can hamper chewing, which could lead to nutritional deficiencies or changes in the brain. There has also been research into the connection between cognitive decline and gum disease, one of the main causes of tooth loss. Another theory is that the same life-long socioeconomic disadvantages which are connected to tooth loss, are also risk factors for cognitive impairment.

The study of 34,074 adults and 4,689 cases of people with diminished cognitive function found that those with more tooth loss had a 1.48 times greater risk of developing cognitive impairment and 1.28 times higher risk of developing dementia.

The impact of dentures was noticeable, with people who have missing teeth more likely to have cognitive impairment if they did not use dentures (23.8%) compared to those who do have dentures (16.9%).

Importantly, researchers also found that every missing tooth was linked to a 1.4% increased risk of cognitive impairment and a 1.1% increased risk of being diagnosed with dementia.

Senior author Dr Bei Wu, Dean’s Professor in Global Health at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and co-director of the NYU Aging Incubator, said: “Given the staggering number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia each year, and the opportunity to improve oral health across the lifespan, it’s important to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between poor oral health and cognitive decline.

“Our findings underscore the importance of maintaining good oral health and its role in helping to preserve cognitive function.”

The findings have been published in JAMDA: The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

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