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Tooth Loss Might Predict Dementia

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Tooth Loss Might Predict Dementia

Tooth Loss Might Predict Dementia

December 10, 2007

By: Beth Walsh for Dental1











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There is no known way to prevent irreversible dementia or even many types of reversible dementia. The following steps, however, may help prevent certain types of dementia:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, moderate use of alcohol, and no smoking or substance abuse

  • Taking precautions to prevent infections

  • Using protective equipment such as a seat belt or motorcycle helmet to prevent head injury


  • Researchers used data collected from 144 participants in the Nun Study, a study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease among Catholic sisters of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The researchers relied on dental records and annual cognitive exams of the Nun Study participants in the order’s Milwaukee province. The participants ranged in age from 75 to 98 years old.


    The participants who did not have dementia at the first examination (of annual exams over a 12-year period) and those with nine or fewer teeth had an increased risk of developing dementia during the study, compared with those who had 10 or more teeth.


    Numerous past studies have shown that patients with dementia are more likely to have poor dental health than patients without dementia. Few researchers, however, have examined whether poor oral health may contribute to the development of dementia.


    The researchers proposed several reasons for the association between tooth loss and dementia, including periodontal disease and early-life nutritional deficiencies, infections or chronic diseases that may result in simultaneous tooth loss and brain damage.
    Four to five million people in the United States have some degree of dementia, and that number will increase over the next few decades as the population ages.


    Dementia affects about one percent of people aged 60 to 64 years and as many as 30 to 50 percent of people older than 85 years. It is the leading reason that elderly people enter institutions.


    A person affected with dementia may not be aware he or she has a problem. Most people with dementia are brought to medical attention by a relative or friend. Consider contacting a healthcare professional if you notice any of the following:


  • Marked loss of short-term memory

  • Behavior or personality changes

  • Inappropriate or uncharacteristic behavior

  • Depressed mood

  • Marked mood swings

  • Inability to carry out daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, feeding, using the toilet, or household chores

  • Carelessness in personal hygiene

  • Persistent difficulty with speech, such as finding the right word

  • Persistent or frequent poor judgment

  • Persistent or frequent confusion or disorientation, especially in familiar situations

  • Inability to manage personal finances
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