Mental alertness seems to decline as people age. But, could this have more to do with tooth loss and inflamed gums than the aging process? The findings of a study indicate a possible association between oral health and cognitive function (the mental process of knowing, awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment) in middle aged adults. As part of the national Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, researchers investigated whether tooth loss and the presence of periodontal (gum) disease relate to reduced mental function.
Participants included over 11,000 late middle–aged adults who were studied from 1996 through 1998. Researchers measured delayed word recall, digit-symbol substitution and word fluency accompanied by a dental screening. Of the 8,554 participants who had natural teeth remaining, nearly 6,000 were given oral exams to measure dental condition, number of natural teeth and presence of inflammation from gum disease. Adjustments were made for factors including smoking, alcohol use and diabetes.
Approximately 13% of the study’s participants were totally without teeth. Of the participants with remaining natural teeth, over 27% had less than 20 teeth. Over 12% of those showed some level of periodontal (gum) disease.
Compared with participants who had natural teeth remaining, those without any natural teeth had lower scores for all cognitive tests. For participants who had fewer teeth and bleeding gums, they had lower digit-symbol substitution and word fluency scores.
The researchers feel the findings show that the absence of natural teeth relates to having less mental sharpness. Tooth loss and bleeding gums (a sign of periodontal bacteria) also seems to indicate reduced mental function among middle age people who still have some or all natural teeth.
Does being without teeth and having gum disease mean you are at risk for cognitive decline? Or, can gum inflammation negatively effect an adult’s mental sharpness as early as middle age? As research continues, we will keep you updated on the findings.
In the meantime, remember that prior research has already established that the health of your mouth effects your overall health. The bacteria of gum disease can become bloodborne through inflamed tissues and cause adverse reactions elsewhere in the body. This bacteria has already been associated with coronary artery disease, diabetes, arthritis, preterm babies, and memory loss.
Be committed to your oral health and your entire body will thank you! Call toll free 1-866-9-Smiles to arrange an exam appointment. This is the first step towards a healthy, worry-free smile!