Memories and Missing Teeth

New research from NYU’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing has found that tooth loss is a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia. 

Not only that, but with each additional tooth loss, the risk of cognitive impairment also increases. 

The study was published in JAMDA: The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine

While the study found that tooth loss is a factor for dementia, the researchers noted that the risk was not noticeable among older adults with dentures. This fact suggests that early intervention including treatment with dentures may protect against cognitive decline.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in six adults over the age of 65 have lost all their teeth.

Why the Link?

Other previous studies have connected tooth loss and lessened cognitive function and posited some theories about why the link exists. 

One theory is that missing teeth can cause problems chewing, contributing to nutritional deficiencies and negative impacts on the brain. Research has also shown that gum disease, the leading cause of tooth loss, can contribute to cognitive decline. Additionally, losing a tooth may result from socioeconomic disadvantages that contribute to a reduction in cognition. 

As many people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia each year, it’s essential to take the opportunity to improve oral health and reduce the risk of tooth loss. 

The study authors found that adults with tooth loss had a 1.48 times greater risk of developing cognitive impairment issues. They also found that those with missing teeth had a 1.28 times higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia, even after managing other risk factors.

However, adults missing teeth had a greater chance of ending up with a cognitive impairment if they didn’t have dentures (23.8 percent) compared to those with dentures (16.9 percent). 

The study helps to show there is a link between the number of missing teeth and a reduction in cognitive function. During their analysis, the researchers found that for every missing tooth, there was a 1.4 percent higher risk of cognitive impairment. For dementia, each missing tooth added a 1.1 percent higher risk. 

The study also supports the importance of maintaining good oral health and reducing the risk of oral disease.

Ways to Prevent Tooth Loss

As we mentioned, you must maintain your natural teeth — they don’t grow back!

Following these nine dental care tips can help:

  • Drink fluoridated water and use toothpaste with fluoride.
  • Take care of your teeth and gums by brushing and flossing to reduce dental plaque.
  • Avoid tobacco. Tobacco use in any form (smoking, vaping, dipping) can increase your risk of developing periodontal disease, oral cancer, throat cancers and oral infections, including the fungal infection candidiasis.
  • Limit alcohol. We recommend using alcohol in moderation to reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease and oral cancers. Note: Combining alcohol with tobacco increases your risk of developing these health problems. 
  • Eat a healthy diet. Skip sugary or starchy snacks and incorporate lean meats, healthy whole grains and five servings of fruits and vegetables a day into your diet. 
  • Visit the dentist regularly. We recommend that you see the dentist at least twice a year. Dental checkups can detect early signs of oral health problems or dental health issues. It also gives us a chance to intervene early so that your health doesn’t degrade further. 
  • Talk to us about your overall health. Individuals with health issues such as diabetes should let their dentist know of their conditions. We can help you maintain your oral health and recognize the complications that these conditions can cause. If you have cancer or have gone through cancer treatment, let us know, as chemotherapy and radiation for cancers of the head and neck can cause issues with your teeth and gums. 
  • Let us know about your medications. Just like oral health issues, let us know if you’re on prescription or over-the-counter medications. Some medicines can cause dry mouth, which can lead to tooth loss if not treated. In the meantime, we recommend that you drink plenty of water, use sugarless gum to increase saliva, and cut tobacco and alcohol, which can dry out your mouth. 
  • Before beginning any cancer treatment, have an oral health checkup. Radiation to the head or neck and/or chemotherapy may cause problems for your teeth and gums. 

What Should You Do If You’ve Lost a Tooth?

Have you lost a tooth or multiple teeth? We offer several tooth-replacement options that can help restore your smile and greatly reduce the risk of developing additional oral health issues or other health problems later in life. From dentures to bridges to dental implants, we can help. Call us today to schedule a consultation.

We look forward to hearing from you.