Having Both Diabetes and Tooth Loss May Hasten Cognitive Decline

Having Both Diabetes and Tooth Loss May Hasten Cognitive Decline

Tooth loss is common among older adults, with nearly 1 in 5 Americans over age 65 having lost all of their teeth. This health issue has been linked with dementia risk. A new study finds that tooth loss combined with diabetes, another dementia risk factor, may speed up cognitive decline even more.

A paper recently published in the Journal of Dental Research took a look at how living with both tooth loss and diabetes impacts cognitive health, by following health data on nearly 10,000 seniors over a 12-year period. The team found that while those living with one issue experienced accelerated cognitive decline, the decline was much faster in study subjects with both conditions.

Bei Wu, lead author and co-director of the NYU Aging Incubator, says, "Our findings underscore the importance of dental care and diabetes management for older adults in reducing the devastating personal and societal costs of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias."

To gauge the impact of tooth loss and diabetes on cognitive decline, the researchers used data from the University of Michigan's Health and Retirement Study. Overall, the NYU study followed the health of 9,948 adults aged 65 and older over a 12-year period beginning in 2006. They focused on measurements of memory and cognitive function, tooth loss, and diabetes.

Among participants who had lost all their teeth and had diabetes, those between 65 and 84 were found to have worse cognitive function than their peers without either issue. The team also found accelerated cognitive decline in participants between 65 and 74 with diabetes, as well as those between 65 and 84 without teeth, but the decline was most rapid in participants between 65 and 74 with both conditions.

For those aged 85 and older, there was no conclusive link between the issues, which researchers say could be due to either better overall health, greater levels of cognitive impairment, or more experience with diabetes management.

The team says these findings should encourage older adults to make regular visits to the dentist and keep up with diabetes management to keep blood sugar levels in check.

Research has suggested that blood sugar issues could serve as one link between diabetes and dementia, with one study finding that older adults with type 1 diabetes who had been hospitalized with just one blood sugar extreme had an increased risk of dementia, while those hospitalized for both and high and low levels had six times the dementia risk.

Other research from NYU has found that for every tooth someone loses, their risk of dementia and cognitive decline increases.

Wu says, "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 team also suggests that regular cognitive screening may be helpful for seniors with oral health issues and diabetes.

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

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