A recent study found that tooth loss and bleeding gums during middle age were associated with lower scores on thinking tests.

“We were interested to see if people with poor dental health had relatively poorer cognitive function, which is a technical term for how well people do with memory and with managing words and numbers,” said study co-author Gary Slade, who is a professor in the department of dental ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

They found in the study that for every extra tooth that had been lost or removed cognitive function went down a bit. People with none of their teeth had poorer cognitive function than their peers who had more teeth. The same correlation was found in patients with severe gum disease.

In order to explore a potential connection between oral health and mental health those conducting the study analyzed data from 1996 to 1998 that included tests for thinking skills and memory as well as tooth and gum exams. The participants ranged between the ages of 45 and 64 and the study was conducted with about 6,000 men and women.

Scores on memory and thinking tests such as word recall, word fluency and skill with numbers were lower in every instance among those with no teeth compared with those who had better oral health.

In a study like this it’s difficult to point to which condition developed first. Poor dental health could reflect a poor diet, and the lack of healthy foods could contribute to the cognitive decline. But poor oral health can also lead to avoiding certain foods, which could contribute to the cognitive decline. Also gum disease can cause inflammation not just in the gums but also throughout the entire circulatory system.

The moral of the study is to take great care of yourself, both orally and mentally. The two are clearly tied together, and focusing on great personal care both in taking of your teeth and gums and maintaining a healthy diet will likely lead to a healthier, happier life.

Source: US World and News Report, “Could Poor Dental Health Signal a Faltering Mind?” Alan Mozes, December 10, 2013