Study Links Tooth Loss to Declining Health in Elderly

If you have few or no natural teeth at the age of 70, you could be aging at an accelerated rate.

"It is important to take poor dental health seriously in that these people may be at greater risk of general physical and/or cognitive decline," Dr. Poul Holm-Pedersen of the Copenhagen Gerontological Oral Health Research Center told Reuters Health.

The researchers assessed the number of teeth remaining intact among 573 nondisabled 70-year-old men and women living in Copenhagen in 1984.

When the study began, fewer than 20 percent had 20 or more teeth, and more than 40 percent had no teeth. The onset of disability was determined among study participants through follow-up assessments conducted five-, 10-, 15- and 20-years later, while the subjects' mortality was assessed over the subsequent 21 years.

Compared with elders maintaining 20 or more natural teeth, those with no or few teeth at age 70 were significantly more likely to report mobility problems such as difficulty walking or climbing stairs within the next five or 10 years, said a Reuters Health report. Having no teeth at age 70 was also linked with greater mortality over the study period.

The associations remained strong even when investigators accounted for other factors potentially associated with disability and death — such as health-related problems and education.

Additional studies are needed to assess whether different measures of social status and lifestyle factors explain the association between tooth loss and subsequent disability and mortality.

In the meantime, the finding that tooth loss appears related to the onset of disability and mortality in old age raises important clinical issues for disease prevention and geriatric care, the researchers say.

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