(dailyRx News) Tooth loss can get in the way of the ability to eat some foods, especially hard foods. The ability to chew hard foods may be related to cognitive ability in the elderly.
A recent study found that elderly people who could still chew hard foods, like apples, had a lower risk of losing memory and thinking skills. Tooth loss was not an issue as long as people had dentures to help them eat hard foods.
Researchers at Karlstad University in Sweden, led by Duangjai Lexomboon, DDS, PhD, enrolled 557 people who were at least 77 years old.
They measured thinking and memory skills using a standard test for dementia.
They asked people about their chewing ability, about their tooth loss and whether or not they had dentures.
They found that people who reported having trouble chewing hard foods were almost two times more likely to have cognitive impairment.
Of the people who had memory and thinking problems, 33 percent reported having trouble chewing hard foods. Only about 17 percent of people without memory problems reported trouble chewing.
It might seem that people who had lost multiple teeth would have the worst chewing ability. However, having lost teeth did not, by itself, mean higher risk of memory loss.
Dentures or other dental work can be used to help people keep their chewing ability. As long as people retained their ability to eat hard foods, their risk of memory loss was less.
The authors concluded that chewing ability, not tooth loss, is related to odds of cognitive decline.
This study cannot say that loss of chewing ability directly causes dementia.
However, the researchers suggested that chewing actions increase blood flow to the head and brain in ways that might affect cognitive ability.
More research is needed to understand the link between mental skills and chewing.
This study was published October 4 in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.
The study was funded by the National Society for Research on Aging, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, and the Swedish Research Council. The authors report no conflicts of interest.