According to a recent study conducted in Japan, poor dental health has been linked to a greater risk for developing dementia. The study, which tested over 4,000 elderly Japanese adults found that those who had few teeth and did not use dentures or who did not visit a dentist regularly had significantly greater chances for developing dementia than participants who partook in healthy dental behaviors.
Data was collected from 4,425 adults older than 65 from the Aichi region of Japan. Each participant, interviewed in 2003, was asked questions about their number of teeth, denture use, ability to chew, how regularly they visited a dentist, and overall dental attitudes. From 2003 to 2007 dementia onset was determined from the insurance databases in the region.
- 220 participants experienced onset of dementia from 2003 to 2007.
- The participants who had few teeth without dentures had a significantly higher risk of developing dementia than those who had 20 teeth or more.
- Not having a regular dentist was also a significant risk factor for dementia onset compared with those who had regular dental appointments.
- Other risk factors included not taking care of overall dental health and not being able to chew well.
One surprising fact is that participants with few teeth and no dentures were at a high risk for dementia onset, but those with few teeth and dentures were not at an elevated risk level. The implication is that denture treatment for patients with few teeth may help in preventing mental deterioration.
There are several possible connections between the lack of dental health and dementia. One such connection addresses the actual process of tooth loss, which is most commonly caused by periodontal or gum disease. Active gum disease is a bacterial infection, which induces an inflammatory response in the body that among other things causes the release of certain chemicals produced in the liver (such as C-reactive proteins). These chemicals have been implicated in a wide variety of ailments including cardiovascular disease, atherosclerotic disease, cerebro-vascular events (strokes), and premature birth to name a few.
The exact mechanism by which these inflammatory proteins promote such conditions is the subject of much research, but since they seem to have such far-reaching effects on systems reliant on good circulatory health, it is easy to propose a link between chronic gum disease and poor brain health and dementia.
The other connection deals with the importance of good nutrition and brain health. Those patients in the study who experienced tooth loss and replaced missing teeth with dentures fared much better in avoiding dementia than those who did not have dentures. The correlation is striking because of the obviously better nutritional intake of those patients who maintained a functioning dentition, i.e., dentures vs. toothlessness.
In terms of brain health, it might just come down to you are what you eat, and you aren’t when you can’t eat.
To read more about this groundbreaking study, please click here