NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Oct. 17 To keep dementia at bay, take care of your teeth. That seems to be the message of a new study in which researchers found a possible link between tooth loss or having very few teeth -- one to nine, to be exact -- and the development of dementia later in life.
The research team analyzed dental records and brain function test results accumulated over 12 years for 144 people enrolled in the Nun Study - a long-term study of aging and Alzheimer's disease among Catholic sisters of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The participants ranged in age from 75 to 98 years.
Among subjects free of dementia at the first cognitive exam, those with no teeth or fewer than nine teeth had a greater than 2-fold increased risk of becoming demented later in life compared with those who had 10 or more teeth, the researchers found.
Roughly one third of subjects with fewer than nine teeth, or no teeth, had dementia at the first cognitive exam.
Dr. Pamela Sparks Stein of the College of Medicine, University of Kentucky, and associates report their findings in The Journal of the American Dental Association.
A number of prior studies have shown that people who suffer from dementia are more likely than their cognitively intact counterparts to have poor oral health, largely due to neglect of oral hygiene.
The current study is one of only a few that asked: Does poor health contribute to the development of dementia? These results suggest it may, although the Kentucky team cautions that it is not clear from the study whether the association is "causal or casual."
"Common underlying conditions may simultaneously contribute to both tooth loss and dementia," Stein noted in comments to Reuters Health. In addition to gum disease, early-life nutritional deficiencies, infections or chronic diseases that may result simultaneously in tooth loss and damage to the brain, she explained.
Journal of the American Dental Association, October 2007.
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