Poor Oral Health Linked to Cognitive Decline and Increased Stress

People with poor oral health are more susceptible to experiencing cognitive decline and perceived stress, according to the findings of a Rutgers University study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

In this study, which focused on older Chinese Americans, researchers assessed 1,297 participants who reported having teeth problems, and 513 participants who reported experiencing gum problems, which comprised the study’s independent variables. The researchers evaluated alterations in cognitive function using the following three domains: episodic memory (East Boston Memory Test), executive function (Symbol Digit Modalities Test), and working memory (Digit Span Backwards). Moreover, they developed a composite measure to examine assessed global cognitive function.

Subsequent to adjusting for sociodemographic and health‐related characteristics, the results of the study showed that participants who reported having teeth symptoms at baseline experienced a reduction in global cognition by 0.07 units (estimate = −0.07; p = .003) and saw their episodic memory decrease by 0.07 units (estimate = −0.07; p = .026). The research data further showed that participants who reported having teeth symptoms at baseline experienced a faster rate of decline in global cognition for every additional year (estimate = 0.02; p = .047). Furthermore, the results found a link between dry mouth and perceived stress.

Minorities ‘Particularly Vulnerable’ to Poor Oral Health

“Racial and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of poor oral health,” said XinQi Dong, director of Rutgers University’s Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research in a press release. “Minorities have less access to preventive dental care that is further exacerbated by language barriers and low socioeconomic status. Older Chinese Americans are at particular risk for experiencing oral health symptoms due to lack of dental insurance or not visiting a dental clinic regularly.”

“Support from family and friends could be protective against dry mouth symptoms in relation to stress; however, the potential overload of such support could be detrimental to oral health outcomes among older Chinese Americans.” continued Weiyu Mao, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University of Nevada, Reno. “Intervention strategies need to expand beyond the common risk factors, such as health conditions and health behaviors, and account for the psychosocial determinants, including stress and social support, to better promote oral health and reduce oral health disparities in this population.”

Dong added that: “Our research raises critical awareness for dental and healthcare providers of the role of perceived stress in dry mouth symptoms. Working collaboratively, dental, and healthcare providers can better identify oral health symptoms as risk factors of cognitive decline in this fast-growing vulnerable population. The primary focus should include promoting optimal oral health and improving the quality of life.”