A new study has found that older adults who have both diabetes and complete tooth loss experience more severe cognitive decline and at a faster rate than their peers without these conditions.
The research underscores the critical importance of dental care and diabetes management for older adults to mitigate the personal and societal impacts of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
The research was led by Bei Wu, vice dean for research at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing.
The team analyzed 12 years of data (2006-2018) from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, involving nearly 10,000 older adults across different age groups.
They focused on assessing memory and cognitive function every two years and also considered tooth loss, diabetes, and other health and demographic factors.
The study found that in the age groups of 65 to 74 and 75 to 84, those with both diabetes and complete tooth loss had worse cognitive function than their peers without these conditions.
Moreover, adults aged 65 to 74 with both diabetes and tooth loss experienced the most accelerated rate of cognitive decline.
Connections Between Diabetes, Oral Health, and Cognitive Decline
Diabetes and poor oral health are both known risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia.
Diabetes can lead to high blood sugar, insulin resistance, inflammation, and related heart disease, which are believed to contribute to changes in the brain.
Similarly, poor oral health, particularly gum disease and tooth loss, are linked to cognitive impairment and dementia.
Inflammation plays a key role in both diabetes and gum disease and may contribute to cognitive decline.
Moreover, painful gums and missing teeth can lead to dietary changes resulting in nutritional deficiency.
This deficiency, which can be worsened by impaired glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in diabetes, is another risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia.
Given these findings, the researchers emphasize the need for regular dental visits, adherence to diabetes treatment, and cognitive screenings in primary care settings for older adults with both poor oral health and diabetes.
Wu notes, “Access to dental care for older adults—especially those with diabetes—is critical, and health care providers should educate their patients about the connection between oral health and cognition.”
The study received support from the National Institutes of Health.
If you care about diabetes, please read studies about key cause of type 2 diabetes, and this eating habit could help reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.
For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies about unhealthy plant-based diets linked to metabolic syndrome, and results showing ultrasound may help prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes.
The study was published in the Journal of Dental Research.
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