Tooth loss and bleeding gums might be indicating a bigger problem than just a messed up dental health. A new study has contested that poor dental health could be indicating a decline in thinking skills among the middle-aged.
"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," said study co-author Gary Slade, a professor in the department of dental ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"What we found was that for every extra tooth that a person had lost or had removed, cognitive function went down a bit," Slade said. "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."
"The same was true when we looked at patients with severe gum disease," he said.
"It could be that poor dental health reflects a poor diet, and that the lack of so-called 'brain foods' rich in antioxidants might then contribute to cognitive decline," Slade said. "It could also be that poor oral health might lead to the avoidance of certain foods, thereby contributing to cognitive decline."
"It could also be that dental disease, especially gum disease, gives rise to inflammation not only in the gums but throughout the circulatory system, ultimately affecting cognition," he said.
"If we want to focus on what might actually be contributing to cognitive decline and how to screen for that, then perhaps [poor] dental health should be thought of as yet another indication of both poor overall health and poor cognition," Slade said. "It's certainly a factor to be aware of."
Slade and his colleagues reported their findings in the December issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association.
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