Elderly people who lose their teeth may be at increased risk for dementia, new research reveals.
The new study included more than 4,000 Japanese participants, 65 and older, who underwent a dental examination and a psychiatric assessment.
Compared with participants who still had many of their natural teeth, those with fewer or no teeth were much more likely to have experienced some memory loss or have early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings were published online last month in Behavioral and Brain Functions.
Participants with symptoms of memory loss tended to report that they had visited the dentist rarely, if at all.
Dr Nozomi Okamoto, the study’s principal investigator, said that this may be one explanation for the study’s findings but suggested that there may be other links between tooth loss and memory problems.
She said: ‘Infections in the gums that can lead to tooth loss may release inflammatory substances, which in turn will enhance the brain inflammation that cause neuronal death and hasten memory loss.
‘The loss of sensory receptors around the teeth is linked to some of the dying neurons.’
This may lead to a vicious cycle, Okamoto explained.
The loss of these brain connections can cause more teeth to fall out, further contributing to cognitive decline.
A few months back, researchers elsewhere discovered that gum disease can affect the brain in elderly patients.
This, they concluded, can happen by causing inflammation throughout the body, a risk factor for loss of mental function.
The study, based on adults aged 60 and older, found those with the highest levels of the gum disease-causing pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis were three times more likely to have trouble recalling a three-word sequence after a period of time.
The research was led by Dr James Noble at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. \
It also found that adults with the highest levels of this pathogen were two times more likely to fail three-digit reverse subtraction tests.