We know that declining oral health is often closely aligned with the aging process. As we age, dental hygiene becomes particularly important in ensuring that your teeth last for a lifetime. A study conducted by researchers at the department of dental ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took this premise further by studying the link between declining dental health and declining cognitive function. Their findings were published in the December issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association.
Results of the study found that tooth loss and bleeding gums may be a sign of declining cognitive ability (thinking skills…memory and managing words/numbers) among the middle aged. To explore the potential link between oral health and mental health, researchers analyzed data gathered between 1996 and 1998. This data included tests of memory and thinking skills as well as tooth and gum examinations in nearly 6,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 64. The researchers found that scores on memory and thinking tests were lower by every measure among those with no teeth when compared to those who had teeth. Additionally, they found that having fewer teeth and serious gum bleeding were associated with lower scores on the tests as compared to those with more teeth and better gum health.
Further research is needed to determine which condition develops first. Does poor dental health contribute to cognitive decline or is it the other way around? Clearly, more research is needed on this important topic, especially with the aging of the American population. However, this study highlights the importance of educating seniors about their oral health and making sure that seniors have access to high quality dental care.