Poor dental health linked to slower cognitive function
SUMMARY: Oral health and mental health were put to the test in a recent study. Discover what University of Carolina researchers found.
Posted: December 13, 2013
Researchers recently explored the connection between brain power and the health of your mouth. The study, conducted by the department of dental ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, put oral and mental health to the test.
"We were interested to see if people with poor dental health had relatively poorer cognitive function, which is a technical term for how well people do with memory and with managing words and numbers," professor and co-author of the study Gary Slade told Health 24. "What we found was that for every extra tooth that a person had lost or had removed, cognitive function went down a bit."
The authors examined information from almost 6,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 64. The tests challenged memory and thinking skills, which were then compared to gum and tooth examinations. Almost 13 percent of the participants had no natural teeth. Among those with teeth, one in every five individuals had less than 20 remaining (a typical adult has 32), and more than 12 percent had serious bleeding in their gums, which is a sign of advanced gum disease. Though the presence of tonsil stones was not directly examined, bacteria build-up has been known to cause this condition as well.
In the results, researchers discovered that having fewer teeth was tied with worse scores on the tests.
"People who had none of their teeth had poorer cognitive function than people who did have teeth, and people with fewer teeth had poorer cognition than those with more," Slade told the source. "The same was true when we looked at patients with severe gum disease."
Although Slade and his colleagues are still hammering out which condition developed first, the relationship is certainly striking and requires further testing. To prevent periodontitis, or advanced stage gum disease, dentists urge staying away from tobacco products, especially chew, brushing and flossing every day, and visiting a dentist at least twice a year. When the mouth is filled with dental plaque and harmful bacteria, individuals become more susceptible to an array of oral health issues, from tooth decay to tonsil stones.