People who maintain their chewing ability are probably less likely to develop dementia, compared to those who cannot chew well any more, researchers from the Department of Odontology and the Aging Research Center at the Karolinska Institutet and from Karlstad University found.

The authors reported their findings in the October issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

We all live in aging communities. The older we get, the greater are our chances of losing cognitive functions, such as the ability to solve problems, make decisions and remember things.

According to previous studies, several factors can contribute to our risk of dementia. Some studies have pointed to a link between having no teeth and losing cognitive function more rapidly, and being more likely to develop dementia.

Some studies have suggested that the more we chew at any age, the smarter we become. Researchers from Bayor College of Medicine found that university students who regularly chewed gum had better standardized math scores than their counterparts who did not.

The action of chewing makes more blood flow to the brain. People with few or no teeth will chew less; resulting is less blood flow to the brain. The hypothesis is that if there is less blood flow to the brain, the risk of eventually having dementia rises.

So far, nobody has carried out a study which specifically focuses on the significance of chewing ability on a national scale in elderly people.

A team of Swedish researchers have done just this. They set out to determine whether tooth loss and chewing ability might impact on cognitive function. They gathered and examined data on a nationally representative sample of 557 elderly people (aged 77 years or more).

They discovered that people who had a problem with chewing hard food, such as apples, had a considerably higher risk of developing dementia. The association between chewing ability and developing cognitive impairments remained even after they took into account possible confounding factors, such as education, mental health, sex and age.

The researchers concluded:

“Whether elderly persons chew with natural teeth or prostheses may not contribute significantly to cognitive impairment as long as they have no chewing difficulty.

The results add to the evidence of the association between chewing ability and cognitive impairment in elderly persons.”

Dementia is the deterioration in one’s ability to process thought (cognitive function, intelligence). The signs and symptoms of dementia get worse over time. The deterioration in cognitive function in a person with dementia is more than might be expected from normal aging.

Dementia is caused by damage, as may occur after a stroke, or disease, such as Alzheimer’s.

Dementia is a non-specific syndrome in which certain areas of brain function may be affected, such as attention, problem solving, language, or memory. Dementia is not a disease while Alzheimer’s is.

During the initial stages of dementia, the higher mental functions are affected. During the later stages more basic details become harder to recall, such as which day of the week it is, how to get to the shops and back, or identifying who people are.

Dementia is much more common among seniors, but can affect adults of any age.

Written by Christian Nordqvist