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Lost Teeth Linked with Thinking and Memory Problems
October 23, 2013

By Nancy Volkers
InteliHealth News Service

INTELIHEALTH - Older people who have lost many teeth show more problems with memory and thinking than those who have most of their natural teeth.

That's the finding of a new study that included 438 adults. All were age 50 and older. They had no history of stroke or dementia. None lived in a nursing home or assisted living.

The researchers gave each person a dental exam and a short test called the Mini Mental State Examination. Scores on this test range from 0 to 30. A score of 23 or less indicates some problems with thinking and memory.

Researchers compared people who had fewer than 6 missing teeth with those who had more than 6 missing teeth. Those with more missing teeth were about 2½ times as likely to have test scores that showed thinking or memory problems.

The researchers then took other factors into account. They included age, education level, diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Increased tooth loss still was linked with about twice the risk of thinking and memory problems.

Severe gum (periodontal) disease can cause tooth loss when it affects the connective tissue and bone around the teeth. Other research has suggested a link between periodontal disease and thinking problems or dementia.

In an earlier study by the same researchers, this same group of adults received brain CT scans. The scans showed that people with more missing teeth had higher rates of "silent strokes" in the brain. They also had more changes in the brain's white matter. White matter carries messages between nerve cells.

Earlier this year, a small study by British researchers found signs of Porphyromonas gingivalis, the bacteria that cause gum disease, in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. They found signs of the bacteria in 4 of 10 brain tissue samples from Alzheimer's patients. There were no signs in 10 samples of tissue from people without Alzheimer's.

The recent Korean study appears in the October issue of the Journal of Korean Medical Sciences. The previous study by these researchers appeared in the June 2013 issue of the same journal.

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