For a long time, it’s been thought that mental health and oral health are two different enterprises- one dealing with cognition, the other dealing with dentition. However, new research casts doubt on this belief. Scientists have long known the importance of our dental health, with research consistently suggesting that excellent oral health is associated with a longer life expectancy.
Now mental health can be added to that list. Researchers have established links between dental health and oral health in seniors but are unsure just why this relationship exists.
Studies Show Oral Health In Seniors Is Linked To Mental Health
What the research shows
Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society this April, the research is a review of oral health and mental health in patients over a 20 year period (from 1993 to 2013). One of the authors of the study, Bei Wu, notes how oral health is likely to decline in patients who develop neuropsychiatric or neurodegenerative disorders, such as dementia.
This means the link between cognitive decline and oral health might not be what we think. It could be, perhaps, that mental decline triggers on the onset of poor oral health, as opposed to the two declining simultaneously side by side. However, the authors of the study emphasize that there is no solid link between oral health and mental health, only that a curious if a tenuous connection exists between the two.
How the research was conducted
To carry out the study, researchers needed to evaluate patient data of seniors from 1993 to 2013. The incidence of significant oral health metrics was noted – such as the number of teeth, the state of gum health, and the prevalence of oral disease. Patients with poor oral health were shown to have an increased incidence of mental declines, such as dementia when compared to patients who had excellent oral health.
Some researchers have speculated as to why this link exists. Some have speculated that both oral health and mental health share common degradation pathways- such as inflammatory pathways. Others have suggested that more research needs to be conducted to determine the precise link or links, that may exist – and that today’s research is insufficient to draw strong conclusions.
Whatever the future of these studies may show, this research, at least, opens an academic avenue not thought of before, one that not only views oral health from a wider perspective but also one that shines a light on how we should think of mental decline in seniors.