Losing a tooth in and of itself is something of a bad omen, indicating all manner of potential underlying health issues. Furthermore, untreated tooth loss can lead to an abscess, so patients should have this issue addressed right away.
Now, there are two more negative health outcomes we can associate with tooth loss: cognitive impairment and dementia.
These findings come from NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, which also points out that the risk for cognitive impairment and dementia grows with each tooth lost.
A crucial takeaway from this research is the need for sound oral health and how it helps older adults maintain cognitive function.
But first, let's examine the study that links tooth loss with cognitive impairment and dementia.
The team at NYU studied tooth loss’s relationship to cognitive impairment via a meta-analysis of 14 studies made up of 34,074 adults. These studies included nearly 4,700 instances of people dealing with worsening cognitive function.
The analysis revealed that adults who lost more teeth were 1.48 times likelier to face cognitive impairment, and 1.28 times likelier to receive a dementia diagnosis.
What’s more, dementia and cognitive impairment risks still exist after controlling for other factors.
It’s also worth noting how dentures appear to play a role in preventing cognitive impairment; specifically, those without dentures had a 23.8% likelihood of cognitive impairment after losing a tooth compared to those who receive dentures after tooth loss (16.8%).
After even more analysis, the team discovered any links between tooth loss and cognitive impairment were less significant when patients had dentures.
The NYU team’s research also included a meta-analysis involving 8 studies to determine if there was a “dose-response” relationship between cognitive impairment and tooth loss.
With the above analysis, it was made clear that the more missing teeth there were, the risk for cognitive decline increased. There was a 1.4% boost to cognitive impairment risk for each missing tooth, on top of a 1.1% increased risk of dementia diagnosis.
According to the NYU study, missing teeth leads to problems with chewing, which in turn can cause poor nutrition, which could trigger brain-related changes. Further research shows a connection between gum disease and cognitive decline. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss.
Furthermore, tooth loss could reflect a lifetime’s worth of socioeconomic disadvantages linked to cognitive decline.
Can dentists and their teams use this information to provide improved care to their patients?
After all, yearly Alzheimer diagnoses and cognitive decline numbers are highly concerning. To that point, there are 14.3 new cases of dementia per 1,000 in the senior population.
Any way you can help stave off and prevent these issues can make a massively positive difference in your elderly patient’s quality of life.
So, where should you start?
As per the results of NYU’s research, much of your treatment strategy can revolve around dentures. Even at a glance, it makes sense. Dentures help those who’ve lost teeth chew their food, so they can absorb the nutrients they need to keep their brains functioning effectively.
We’ll then point out that this isn’t the first bit of research highlighting the importance of dentures. Studies from back in 2010 came up with similar results; brain function activity was increased by both the improvement of complete dentures and the wearing of partial dentures. Furthermore, these improvements occurred in patients who were at risk of diminished brain activity.
A proactive approach to dentures might be the answer, or at the very least, vigilance with older patients about receiving their dentures.
You have all the reasons in the world to ensure your patients receive treatment when they lose their teeth.
For one thing, a lost tooth isn’t something to be left alone from the potential for infections to aesthetic reasons.
NYU’s research has given you another reason to help your elderly patients who’ve lost teeth, helping prevent Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.
You already know the correct type of treatment for missing teeth in elderly patients: dentures.
But you now know how much more urgent it is to ensure you perform the procedures nearly right away. After all, it’s a simple, everyday type of procedure that can make all the difference in the world to someone in need.