A growing connection among diabetes, oral health, and dementia highlights the importance of dental care and diabetes management as we age. Having both diabetes and tooth loss contributes to worse cognitive function and faster cognitive decline in older adults, according to the study, ‘Diabetes, Edentulism, and Cognitive Decline: A 12-Year Prospective Analysis’, published in a special issue of the Journal of Dental Research.
While both diabetes and missing teeth are risk factors for dementia, little research has focused on the effects of having both conditions in the course of cognitive decline. To address this gap, Prof. Bei Wu, the study’s lead author, and her colleagues turned to the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, analysing 12 years of data (2006-2018) from the longitudinal study in order to observe cognitive changes over time.
The researchers included 9,948 older adults who were grouped by age in their analysis. The study included measures of memory and cognitive function, assessed every two years, along with questions about tooth loss, diabetes, and other health and demographic factors.
They found that older adults aged 65-84 with both diabetes and complete tooth loss had worse cognitive function than their counterparts without either condition. Over time, older adults aged 65-74 with diabetes alone experienced accelerated cognitive decline, and those aged 65-84 without any teeth also experienced accelerated cognitive decline, but older adults aged 65-74 with both diabetes and complete tooth loss had the fastest rate of cognitive decline.
For older adults with both poor oral health and diabetes, the researchers stress the importance of regular dental visits, adherence to diabetes treatment and self-care to control blood sugar levels, and cognitive screenings in primary care settings.