Study finds link between oral disease markers and cognitive status

Markers of oral disease seem to be associated with lower cognitive status, according to a study published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association (Vol. 144:12, pp. 1362-1371).

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied data from more than 11,000 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study from 1996 to 1998. Almost 10,000 participants answered dental screening questions. More than 8,500 of these were dentate participants with about 5,500 of these participants receiving oral examinations.

The researchers assessed dental status, number of teeth, and periodontitis, and they estimated the associations with cognitive scores after adjusting for sociodemographic factors, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and diabetes.

According to the study findings, more than 27% of the dentate participants had fewer than 20 teeth and more than 12% had pocket depth of 4 mm or more with severe bleeding. For all the cognitive tests, edentulous participants had lower scores than dentate participants.

The researchers also found that having fewer teeth and gingival bleeding, but not periodontal pocket depth, were associated with lower digit-symbol substitution and lower word fluency test scores among the dentate participants.

"Our study findings add to the evidence that complete tooth loss, low number of teeth, and the inflammatory stage of periodontal disease are associated with lower cognitive performance," the study authors wrote.

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