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Your Healthy Family: Is tooth loss tied to dementia?

Posted at 10:36 AM, Mar 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-04 12:42:44-05

COLORADO SPRINGS – As we age there are many reasons to make sure we take care of our teeth.  Several recent studies suggests there is a connection between tooth loss and dementia.

Dr. Fred Guerra, DMD with Guerra Dental in Colorado Springs says what he’s seen in his practice backs up the studies.  “A number of studies have shown there is a relationship between the amount of tooth loss and dementia. When I see folks in here in their eighties and nineties, who have a full complement of teeth, and they are taking care of them there just seems to be a higher sense of self and an awareness and will to live that those folks who have lost all their teeth and can’t chew, or get the proper nutrition.  They just seem to have a higher zest for life.”

Nearly 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and that number is expected to triple by 2050, according to the World Health Organization.  One study looked at more than fifteen-hundred people in Japan, who lived in a suburb of Fukuoka. More than eighty-five percent of the towns residents age sixty and older participated in the study.  The results found that participants who had fewer teeth when the study began were significantly more likely to develop dementia within five years.

This studies authors hypothesized four possible reasons why fewer teeth could be associated with dementia:

  1. Poor chewing from an abnormal bite may reduce blood flow to the brain, resulting in the development of dementia.
  2. Problems chewing food because of tooth loss can result in a poor diet, which may increase the risk of dementia.
  3. Chronic inflammation, which may cause tooth loss also may lead to dementia.
  4. Poor oral health may indicate poor overall health over time, and poor overall health may be a risk factor for dementia.

Dr. Guerra said he recently saw a patient whose situation showed in a dramatic way how the loss of teeth can affect someone’s quality of life.  “We had an eighty-eight year-old lady in with a broken set of dentures. She suffered a fall and went from having teeth, to having no teeth instantly.  So we see how it effects people, how they feel about themselves and their ability to chew their food and get proper nutrition.  That is why we think it’s critical that dental offices and practices have a plan with how they are going to deal with the aging population. We are all going to get there, and we also have more and more baby boomers taking care of their parents, so it’s critical to get them in and assess their dental needs.”

Dr. Guerra also says it’s important for people to change their approach to caring for their teeth and gums as they age.  “What we see is some risk factors increase for those folks aging. Perhaps the gums recede, and now we are dealing with root structure that is not as dense as enamel, it needs to be cared for differently.  Perhaps they need to have fluoride applied, three, four, or five times a year. The goal is to prevent problems, we are not trying to create a ‘Hollywood Smile’. We want to keep those teeth in there, so they can chew and be free of infection and gum disease.  Aging people are hopefully keeping their teeth longer because there is nothing better than your own teeth to chew with.”

If you have any questions, follow up with your dentist, or the folks at Guerra Dental.

Guerra Dental is a proud sponsor of Your Healthy Family