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Tooth Loss Appears to Affect Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults

Researchers at New York University (NYU) Rory Meyers College of Nursing have found an apparent connection between tooth loss and cognitive impairment.

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close up of elderly person's mouth missing teeth
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Researchers at New York University (NYU) Rory Meyers College of Nursing have found an apparent connection between tooth loss and cognitive impairment. While results from the study, “Dose-Response Meta-Analysis on Tooth Loss With the Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia,” published in JAMDA suggest tooth loss presents a risk factor, older adults with dentures were not found to be at increased risk for dementia or cognitive decline — indicating that dentures may help provide some level of protection.

“Our findings add to the increasing body of literature on the link between oral health, systemic diseases and cognitive function,” says senior author Bei Wu, PhD, Dean’s Professor in Global Health at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and codirector of the NYU Aging Incubator.

In research supported by the National Institutes of Health, Wu and colleagues from Duke University conducted a meta-analysis of 14 longitudinal studies of tooth loss and cognitive impairment. In their analysis, investigators found adults with greater incidence of tooth loss were at 1.48 times higher risk of developing cognitive impairment and 1.28 times higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia. In fact, each additional lost tooth was associated with a 1.4% increased risk of cognitive impairment and 1.1% increased risk of dementia. Additionally, the association was nonsignificant for study participants using dentures, as subjects with missing teeth were more likely to experience cognitive impairment if they did not have dentures (23.8%), as compared to adults with dentures (16.9%).

Wu says clinicians can help older adults improve oral health by continuing to emphasize the importance of regular dental visits and good oral hygiene, and by providing reminders to ensure they do not miss a scheduled appointment. Toward this goal, Wu and her team designed a protocol that consists of lifestyle interventions, promoting oral health literacy, and assisting family members to develop cueing and reminder strategies to improve the oral health of older adults.

From Decisions in Dentistry. August 2021;7(8)9.

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