Count Your Cognitive Blessings--Or Teeth?

              By now, you’re becoming aware of the fact that in order to have tip-top cognitive function, you can’t rely on taking care of your brain alone.  We’ve talked about maintaining heart health to have better cognition, how exercise is necessary to boost memory, and now there’s a link between dental health and age-related neurodegeneration that’s got our attention!

                Research from New York University has found a link between how many teeth you have in your senior years and your risk for developing a neurodegenerative condition.  Older individuals missing teeth were found to have almost one-and-a-half times the risk of developing cognitive impairment and about 1.2 times more of a risk of being diagnosed with such a condition.

                Having fewer teeth but using dentures seemed to confer a protective effect, lowering the risk of cognitive impairment from almost 24% more likely to around 17% of a higher risk of cognitive declines.  Looking further into the connection between cognitive impairment and tooth loss in denture wearers found that the cognitive impairment wasn’t as significant in denture wearers.

                Could the connection between the number of teeth in a mouth somehow get worse as more teeth are lost?  According to the researchers, the loss of just one more tooth increased the risk of cognitive decline by 1.4% and the risk of a neurodegenerative condition by 1%.  We can see how the loss of all 32 teeth can continue to multiply this risk.

                Interestingly, the study doesn’t say whether this is a chicken or egg effect; was the cognitive decline already in place which caused poor oral hygiene which led to the tooth loss?  Or was it the lack of teeth and subsequently difficult time chewing that caused nutrient deficiencies and the lack of whole foods like grains and vegetables to be consumed?  Was it the change in the bacteria of the mouth from decaying teeth that lead to a bacterial imbalance and the accumulation of toxins which crossed into the blood-brain-barrier?

                Either way, you can be sure that we’re all remembering to brush (and count) our teeth before bed tonight!

Further Reading

Xiang Qi, Zheng Zhu, Brenda L. Plassman, et al. Dose-Response Meta-Analysis on Tooth Loss With the Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.jamda.2021.05.009

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