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Tooth loss may indicate cognitive, physical decline later in life

March 16, 2015 London — Tooth loss may be an early indicator of cognitive and physical decline in older adults, according to a University College London study published January in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The longitudinal study of 3,166 adults who are 60 years old and older in England showed the memory and walking speeds of those who have lost all of their teeth decline more rapidly than in those who still have some of their teeth.

People with none of their own teeth performed about 10 percent worse in both memory and walking speed tests than the people with teeth, according to the research.

After the results of the study were adjusted for factors including socioeconomic status and physical health, people without teeth still walked slightly slower than those with teeth, according to the research.

The links between older adults losing all their teeth and poor memory and physical function 10 years later were more evident in adults aged 60 to 74 than in those 75 and older, according to the study.

Thus, recognizing excessive tooth loss may help physicians identify adults at higher risk of mental and physical decline, according to the lead author of the study, Dr. Georgios Tsakos, who has a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of London.

"We find that common causes of tooth loss and mental and physical decline are often linked to socioeconomic status, highlighting the importance of broader social determinants such as education and wealth to improve the oral and general health of the poorest members of society," Dr. Tsakos said.