Missing More Than a Tooth? Surprising Connections to Tooth Loss

Can losing a tooth cause memory loss?

A new study says yes, there is an association between tooth loss and changes in cognitive function.

Not only that, but with each additional tooth lost, the risk of cognitive decline increases.

The study, led by researchers at NYU Meyers College of Nursing and published in JAMDA: The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, also found that the risk of cognitive decline was not as significant in adults with dentures.

This suggests that timely interventions such as dentures and dental implants may be beneficial in reducing the risk of cognitive decline.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six adults aged 65 or older is missing all of their teeth.

Earlier research has revealed a link between tooth loss and cognitive decline or cognitive impairment. This most recent study helps support that link.

Some theories behind the connection are that missing all your teeth can make eating and chewing very difficult, and individuals who are missing teeth have to switch to a soft-food diet.

In most cases, very soft foods (pasta, potatoes, etc.) are nutritionally deficient. Some foods can also impact the brain’s ability to process information.

Another possible connection is that the bacteria in the mouth that contribute to tooth loss can also trigger cognitive impairment.

Some studies have shown that some of the bacteria that cause gum disease are also responsible for causing a spike in beta proteins in the brain, a situation known to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

During their research, those working on the study looked at 14 longitudinal studies consisting of 34,074 adults and 4,689 cases of people with diminished cognitive function.

The researchers found that individuals missing the most teeth had 1.48 times higher risk of developing cognitive impairment. They also have a 1.28 times greater chance of being diagnosed with abnormal brain function and dementia — even after controlling for other factors.

Study participants who had complete tooth loss had a 23.8 percent greater chance of developing cognitive impairment than individuals who had all their teeth. In comparison, individuals with dentures had only a 16.9 percent chance of developing cognitive decline.

The researchers also looked at data from eight studies to see if there was a dose-relationship connection between tooth loss and cognitive decline. So what we mean is — does each additional tooth lost translate to a greater risk of cognitive decline?

Their answer was yes.

Each additional missing tooth meant a 1.4 percent greater risk of cognitive impairment and a 1.1 percent increased risk of being diagnosed with dementia.

Bottom line: The number of missing teeth is a good indicator for the potential for cognitive decline and should be taken very seriously.

It should also make you consider the importance of maintaining good oral health.

What Causes Tooth Loss?

The reasons people lose a tooth can vary, but some of the most common causes are:

Gum disease. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is the No. 1 cause of tooth loss in adults. This oral disease is a severe bacterial infection that can impact your gums as well as the bone below your gums and natural teeth that keep your teeth supported. If your gum disease goes untreated, it can destroy this bone and cause tooth loss.

Cavities. Cavities are a common problem in the United States and across the globe. Bacteria and poor oral health cause cavities, and if left untreated, they can lead to losing your natural teeth.

Teeth grinding. Do you grind your teeth? Did you know that doing so can not only cause your teeth to flatten, become loose and even fracture, but it can also cause them to fall out? It’s true. Tooth grinding is a common cause of tooth loss.

Injury or trauma. Not-so-fun fact: More than 5 million natural teeth are knocked out every year due to accidents, trauma and sports injuries. There are ways to save an injured tooth, but should your tooth not be savable, consider tooth-replacement options such as a dental implant.

Other causes of tooth loss include illnesses such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome

And modifiable risk factors for tooth loss include things such as:

  • Smoking status
  • Some eating disorders
  • Poor diet/nutritional deficiencies
  • Avoiding the dentist

Some individuals who are undergoing cancer treatment or those on certain medications can also experience tooth loss. Some factors, including socioeconomic status, can also contribute to poor oral health, and thus increase the risk for tooth loss, cognitive impairment and dementia.

How to Prevent Tooth Loss (and Possibly Lower Your Risk of Dementia!)

Like many other oral conditions, tooth loss can be prevented with proper dental and oral hygiene practices, such as:

  • Brushing your teeth for at least two minutes at least twice a day
  • Flossing at least once per day
  • Visiting your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and thorough oral examinations
  • Wearing a night guard while you sleep if you clench and grind your teeth
  • Using a mouthguard while you are playing contact sports

There are other issues surrounding tooth loss that aren’t just about changes to your cognitive function. Other consequences of tooth loss in addition to cognitive impairment include masticatory dysfunction (difficulty chewing), changes in health, speech changes, depression and anxiety.

If you have lost a tooth, we can help. Contact us today to learn about our range of tooth-replacement options, including dental implants.

Dental implants are a fantastic option for tooth replacement because they look, feel and function just like natural teeth. Dental implants can help you prevent negative impacts to your oral health.