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Teeth Loss Associated With Future Functional Decline in Older Adults


September 16, 2016

In a recent study, researchers claim that tooth loss is associated with future decline in higher-level functional capacity and suggest that treatments for tooth loss could reduce this decline (J Am Geriatr Soc. 2016; doi: 10.1111/jgs.14324).

Researcher Ken Osaka, MD, PhD, MPH, and colleagues conducted a prospective cohort study of functionally independent, community-dwelling persons aged 65 and older (N = 62,333) in 24 Japanese municipalities between 2010 and 2013.

Self-reported number of teeth was used as an exposure variable. The outcome was changes in higher-level functional capacity measured using the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology Index of Competence (TMIG-IC), which consists of three domains: instrumental activities of daily living, intellectual activity, and social roles.
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The participants were given questionnaires to complete. They answered a number of questions, including:

  • how many teeth they had;
  • their medical and mental health history;
  • how many falls they had over the last year;
  • whether they smoked or drank alcohol;
  • their body weight; and
  • how well they were able to perform common activities of daily life.

The baseline response rate was 65.2%, and the follow-up rate was 70.1%. During the follow-up period, participants’ TMIG-IC score declined by an average of 0.247 points (standard deviation, 1.446).

The results showed a significant dose-response association between tooth loss and decline in higher-level functional capacity in multiple linear regression models. Inverse probable weighting models estimated the increment in TMIG-IC score (β = 0.170, 95% CI = 0.114–0.227) if edentulous participants had 20 or more natural teeth.

In summary, researchers learned older adults who have significant tooth loss are less functional when compared with people who lose fewer teeth. The research team suggested that it is essential that older adults receive the support they need to maintain good oral health self-care practices and that they receive adequate dental care.—Amanda Del Signore

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