A new research study has found a link between missing teeth and memory loss or cognitive decline/dementia.
About 5 million people 65 or older in the United States have dementia or cognitive decline.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 percent of people in the United States have lost at least one permanent tooth because of tooth decay by age 17.
Sixty-nine percent of adults between 35 and 44 years old have lost at least one permanent tooth, and by age 50, Americans have lost an average of 12 teeth (including wisdom teeth).
Twenty-six percent of adults age 65 to 74 have lost all their teeth.
In this particular study, researchers examined the relationship between tooth loss and cognitive decline/dementia. The study authors found that the more teeth an individual has lost, the greater his or her chances of developing dementia and cognitive problems.
The researchers on the study analyzed six databases for information from previous analyses that explored the connection between tooth loss and dementia or cognitive decline up to March 1, 2020.
The studies they explored were published in peer-reviewed journals and involved data from adults in different settings.
Overall, their exploration covered 34,074 participants, of whom 4,689 had reported some decline in their cognitive function.
The study, published in JAMDA: The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, establishes a foundation for researchers to continue the investigation as to whether tooth loss is the cause of cognitive decline and dementia, and if so, why.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia refers to various conditions involving cognitive issues that can negatively affect a person’s day-to-day living. Sixty to 80 percent of dementia cases are Alzheimer’s disease. A stroke can also cause dementia.
Other forms of the condition include frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia, which can involve multiple types of dementia, and Lewy body dementia, the second most progressive form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.
Currently, there is no cure for neurodegenerative dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease. However, treatments for these conditions generally manage the symptoms and include medications, memory care, a healthy diet and an overall healthier lifestyle.
While the cure for dementia is not currently known, research like this helps identify risk factors for these conditions, which can help lead to treatment.
Increased Risk of Dementia or Memory Loss With Tooth Loss
The researchers found that tooth loss was associated with a 1.48 times higher risk of cognitive decline and memory loss. The study also found that subjects with tooth loss had a 1.28 times greater risk of developing dementia.
These situations were also true when researchers accounted for other factors.
The study also found that an individual had a 1.1 percent greater chance of developing dementia for every tooth that was lost and a 1.4 percent greater risk of cognitive decline including memory loss.
Interestingly enough, the researchers found that when individuals who experienced tooth loss wore dentures, their risk of developing dementia and cognitive decline was reduced.
Researchers are currently unsure about the exact cause of the relationship but believe changes in the body occur when a person consumes food without teeth. Another theory is that individuals without teeth have poorer nutrition because they must eat softer and unhealthier foods due to poor overall oral health and limitations on chewing and biting.
Another possible explanation is the presence of oral bacteria, such as Porphyromonas gingivalis, one of the primary causes of gum disease, other oral diseases and other health conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
P. gingivalis is highly virulent and can produce toxic byproducts, facilitating the formation of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain. It can also cause a neuroinflammatory response in brain cells such as microglia and astrocytes, spurring a dementia response.
Furthermore, research on the project asserts that the findings may be partly caused by the fact that those living with dementia or cognitive decline often lose the ability to care for themselves, have a decreased quality of life and have difficulty maintaining good oral hygiene.
The study authors also note that socioeconomic factors, such as the inability to pay for dental care and a lack of dental insurance, contribute to tooth loss rates. In many cases, low-income and marginalized populations are affected by tooth loss.
The research team expressed the need to continue their research to identify the potential causal relationship between tooth loss and neurological decline.
Have You Lost a Tooth?
If you’ve experienced tooth loss, you don’t have to live with a piece of your smile missing.
Dental implants have become an increasingly popular option for tooth replacement because they look, feel and function like natural teeth and can last many years with proper care.
We’d love to talk to you about your options for tooth-replacement and cosmetic dental needs. Call us now to schedule your appointment or consultation.