Does Tooth Loss Affect Ability to Carry Out Everyday Tasks in Older People?

Priscilla Lynch 

June 03, 2021

Older adults with more natural teeth are better able to perform everyday tasks such as cooking, taking medications, managing money, making a telephone call or going shopping, according to research co-led by University College London (UCL).

The study, published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society,  analysed data from 5631 adults from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) aged between 50 and 70 years.

The number of natural teeth predicted by exogenous geographical and historical variation in exposure to water fluoride from age five to 20 years old was used as an exposure variable.

The outcome, having any limitations in instrumental activities of daily living (IADL), was assessed by self-reported questionnaires.

Being exposed to fluoridated water was associated with having more natural teeth in later life (coefficient: 0.726; 95% CI, 0.311-1.142; F=11.749).

Retaining one more natural tooth reduced the probability of having a limitation in IADL by 3.1 percentage points (coefficient: −0.031; 95% CI, −0.060 to −0.002).

Senior author Prof Georgios Tsakos, UCL, said: "We know from previous studies that tooth loss is associated with reduced functional capacity, but this study is the first to provide evidence about the causal effect of tooth loss on the instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) among older adults in England. And this effect is considerable."

"For example, older adults with 10 natural teeth are 30% more likely to have difficulties with key activities of daily living such as shopping for groceries or working around the house or garden compared to those with 20 natural teeth."

"Even after taking in factors such as participant’s education qualification, self-rated health and their parent’s education level for example, we still found a positive association between the number of natural teeth a person had and their functional ability."

Further research on the mechanism of the observed causal relationship is needed, the study concluded.

Matsuyama Y, Listl S, Jürges H, Watt RG, Aida J, Tsakos G. Causal Effect of Tooth Loss on Functional Capacity in Older Adults in England: A Natural Experiment. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021;69(5):1319-1327. doi: 10.1111/jgs.17021. PMID: 33496349

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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