Study says tooth loss can lead to mental decline

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By Jose Miguel Valenzuela

Researchers who have studied tooth loss and physical and mental decline in senior adults theorize that losing teeth may affect the walking speed and functional memory of adults in their golden years.

The team, which comes from the University College London, described their method of analysis and its corresponding results in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The subjects of the study were over 3,100 adults aged 60 who resided in England.

The data was gathered from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA) and was analyzed through a comparison of each subject’s performance in memory and walking speed tests. Some participants no longer have natural teeth, while others were still in a good oral condition.  The results showed that the adults who preserved their natural teeth performed better by 10% as compared to those whose teeth are only artificial.

According to Dr. Georgios Tsakos of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health the mental and physical affects of tooth loss is especially significant among adults within the 60-74 age bracket.

However, the connection between tooth loss and poor memory became unimportant after considering other factors. Other variables such as demographics and socioeconomic status also affected a person’s mental function.  Dr. Tsakos stated that a person’s socioeconomic situation greatly affects his health. He further discusses that poor sectors have lesser access to health care; thus having higher chances of decline. However, other factors such as lifestyle can be changed.

Regardless of the reasons behind the connection, tooth loss is an important tool in diagnosing people who have a higher tendency of declining later in their life.

In August 2014, the International and American Associations for Dental Research published a paper stating about the data regarding tooth loss in the US. They concluded that even if there is a substantial decline of cases in the last 50 years, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

Families with higher income have lesser cases of tooth loss, while households which are located in areas with high poverty rates have higher instances of the condition.

They found out that for groups they classified under people living under the poverty line, those who did not reach more than high school education, and those who are older Americans, the percentage of cases of gum disease are over 65%, nearly 67%, and around 70%. They further state that Americans whose age is 65 and above have a prevalence rate of around 70%.

According to the study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012, gum disease ranks as the most common cause of tooth loss among adults. Approximately half of the US adult population has the disease, whether it may be mild or severe.

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