Chewing Ability, Tooth Loss Might Predict Dementia Risk in Seniors

Seniors who maintain and protect their dental health—particularly their ability to chew—might also be able to take a bite out their chances for suffering loss of mental function, according to Swedish researchers.

Scientists from the Karolinska Institute’s department of dental medicine studied 557 people aged 77 and older. They assessed participants’ dental status, chewing ability and mental status and found that those who reported multiple teeth lost and difficulty with chewing hard food had significantly higher odds of experiencing cognitive impairment.

In the past, researchers have theorized that chewing encourages blood flow to the brain and people with few or no teeth will chew less, resulting is less blood flow to the brain and raising the risk of eventually having dementia.

The scientists in this study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, said that the association between chewing ability and developing cognitive impairments remained even after they took into account possible confounding factors, such as education, mental health, sex and age.

They also found that chewing ability was the key to reduced risk for dementia, whether participants had natural teeth or dentures.

Visit the ADA consumer website,, for comprehensive information on how adults over age 60 can maintain their dental health and overcome the unique oral health issues they face. The website offers information on healthy habits, concerns, nutrition and much more.

Patients with special needs due to physical, medical, developmental or cognitive conditions require special consideration when receiving dental treatment. This can include people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome, spinal cord injuries and countless other conditions or injuries that can make standard dental procedures more difficult.

Caring for a special needs patient takes compassion and understanding. While most dentists can accommodate for special needs patients, some dentists focus on meeting the needs and working with the limitations of these patients. If you or a loved one has special needs, talk with your dentist to discuss your options.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Common Conditions For ADULTS 55+

  • Gum disease
    This potentially serious condition occurs when the gum tissues surrounding teeth become infected because of a buildup of plaque on the teeth and gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and is recognizable by swollen, red or bleeding gums. Gum disease is a concern for older adults for a number of reasons, including plaque building up on teeth and gums from not developing proper oral health care habits earlier in life.

  • Tooth or root decay
    Even at 55-plus years, adults can still develop tooth or root decay if gum recession has occurred. It is important for older adults to effectively clean the gums, the teeth and exposed root surfaces to remove dental plaque and food debris.

  • Sensitive teeth
    At some point, we've all tossed back a nice, cold glass of water only to grimace at that sharp, tingling sensation in our teeth. A number of factors cause tooth sensitivity, including brushing too aggressively with a hard-bristled toothbrush, worn tooth enamel, and a cracked or fractured tooth.