Exploring The Link Between Tooth Loss And Deteriorated Mental And Physical Health

In 2014, a British study explored the link between missing teeth and deteriorated physical and mental health in adults over the age of 60. In the study, participants completed various tests measuring walking speed and memory. Study participants who lost all of their teeth performed, on average, 10% worse on these tests than participants who still had at least some remaining natural teeth.

Causation or Correlation?

With the aging process comes an entire handbag of increased health risks, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, kidney failure, and mental health disorders. These medical conditions can certainly contribute to lowered performance in memory tests and a slower walking pace. Because of these additional variables, researchers cannot definitively say that tooth loss is the cause of poorer mental and physical health performance in older adults.

The results of the British study may not reveal it tooth loss causes diminished mental and physical health or if the conditions are simply correlated. "Causation" exists when one condition (in this case, missing teeth) actually caused a second event (decreased mental and physical health). "Correlation" exists when the two events happen at the same time and are apparently related, but without a cause and effect relationship. The study reveals that tooth loss is definitely correlated with mental and physical health decline, but it does not prove that tooth loss causes this decline.

So, Tooth Loss Does Not Cause a Decline in Physical and Mental Health?

To say that the participants without teeth in the 2014 British study performed worse on memory tests and had a slower average walking speed for reasons other than their lack of teeth is not entirely accurate. This is because periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults. Periodontal disease develops from poor oral hygiene, like lack of flossing or improper brushing, giving bacteria the opportunity to thrive and infect your gums. Your risk of developing periodontal disease increases if you smoke, neglect regular dental appointments and cleanings, or have age-related gum recession.

Periodontal disease also affects more than just your smile. When bacteria infect your gums, they enter the bloodstream. Your bloodstream is like an expressway to all of your organs, and once your oral bacteria enter this bloodstream, your health risks spike. As a result, periodontal disease can cause some shocking and seemingly unrelated health problems, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, increased stroke risk, and mental problems. Since aging places you at an increased risk for these health problems already, adding periodontal disease into the mix magnifies your health risks even more than just aging alone.

Ultimately, good oral health at any age can ward off periodontal disease, which results in tooth loss and increased mental and physical health risks. Good brushing habits, daily flossing, and diligent dental check-ups can do more than just keep your pearly whites inside of your gums: these habits can protect your mental and physical health in old age. Contact a dental professional such as Scott W. Murphy, D.M.D., P.A. for more information.