Can poor oral health accelerate cognitive decline?

A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reviews studies focused on oral health and cognition. It is possible that better oral hygiene and regular dental visits may play a role in slowing cognitive decline as one ages. Researchers have questioned whether there is an association between oral health and cognition for older adults. Evidence suggests that the frequency of oral health problems increases in those that are cognitively impaired. Furthermore, factors associated with poor oral health like poor nutrition and systemic diseases are also associated with poor cognition.

Researchers analyzed relevant cross-sectional (data collected at one specific point in time) and longitudinal (data collected over an extended period of time) studies published between 1993 and 2013. Some studies found that oral health measures such as the number of teeth, the number of cavities, and the presence of periodontal disease (gum disease) were associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline where as others studies were unable to show such an association. Researchers noted that findings based on the number of teeth or cavities are conflicting, and limited studies suggest that periodontal conditions are associated with poorer cognitive status.

The researchers feel there is not enough evidence to conclude that a causal association exists between cognitive function and oral health. Even so the researchers suggest that in the future data from large and more population representative samples is used and that standard cognitive assessments and oral health measures are used. Even though nothing was proved with this study, it still highlights the importance of taking care of your oral health as you age

Bei Wu, Gerda G. Fillenbaum, Brenda L. Plassman, and Liang Guo. Association Between Oral Health and Cognitive Status: A Systematic Review. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, April 1, 2016

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