Study finds link between tooth loss and mental, physical decline in older adults

January 15, 2015

A recent study has found that the walking speed and memory of adults without any teeth decline more rapidly than those who still have some or all of their own teeth.

A recent study has found that the walking speed and memory of adults without any teeth decline more rapidly than those who still have some or all of their own teeth.

The study, out of University College of London, studied over 3,100 British adults over the age of 60 from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), and compared memory and walking speed within the demographic. Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the research found that study participants with none of their own teeth performed approximately 10% worse in both walking speed and memory tests than participants that had some natural teeth.

The associations between poorer memory and physical function were more obvious in adults 60-74 years of age than in those over 75.

“Tooth loss could be used as an early marker of mental and physical decline in older age, particularly among 60-74 year-olds,” said lead author Dr. Georgios Tsakos of the UCL Department of Epidemiology & Public Health in a recent college news release. “Regardless of what is behind the link between tooth loss and decline in function, recognizing excessive tooth loss presents an opportunity for early identification of adults at higher risk of faster mental and physical decline later in their life. There are many factors likely to influence this decline, such as lifestyle and psychosocial factors, which are amenable to change.”

Prior to making conclusions about the associations between tooth loss and memory and physical function decline, researchers adjusted the results for potentially influential factors, such as sociodemographic characteristics, preexisting health problems, socioeconomic status and education. Despite the adjustments for these factors, people without their own teeth still walked slower than those who still had their teeth.

Related reading: Study finds sleeping in dentures can pose major health hazards

The full study, “Tooth Loss Associated with Physical and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults,” was first published in December on the Journal of the American Geriatrics Societywebsite.