It hardly seems credible that having all your teeth into old age can make you more capable of making a phone call or cooking a meal.
But researchers have shown just that. Older adults with more natural teeth are better able to perform everyday tasks such as taking medication or going shopping, according to scientists from UCL and the Tokyo Medical and Dental University.
They analysed data from 5,631 adults aged between 50 and 70 from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
Previous studies have shown the link between tooth loss and low functional capacity, but didn’t prove cause and effect.
In this study, the research team wanted to investigate how tooth loss could affect someone’s ability to carry out daily activities.
Participants were asked how many natural teeth they had – older adults usually lose up to 32 teeth over time – and related that to people’s ability to carry out key activities of daily living (ADL).
Tasks included preparing a hot meal, shopping for groceries, making telephone calls, taking medication, doing work around the house or garden, or managing money.
Senior author Professor Georgios Tsakos, of UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health, explained: “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 ADL among older adults in England. The effect is considerable.
“For example, older adults with 10 natural teeth are 30% more likely to have difficulties with key activities 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 a 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.”
The team point out that having more natural teeth is also linked to a delay in the onset of disability and death.
Tooth loss can also hamper social interaction, which is linked to poorer quality of life. And it can result in having a poorer diet with fewer nutrients.
First author Dr Yusuke Matsuyama, of Tokyo Medical and Dental University, said: “Preventing tooth loss is important for maintaining functional capacity among older adults in England.
“The health gain from retaining natural teeth may not be limited to oral health outcomes but have wider relevance for promoting functional capacity and improving overall quality of life.”