All teeth pulled, affecting memory?

by Betty Barnett
( Allentown, PA)

I had all my teeth pulled last year. Could this be why I can't remember things I should remember? That's when my problem started.

Doug's Reply. Surprisingly, yes, it could, if recent studies can be believed. At least with regard to your memory for locations. If you are in poor health generally, and not just orally, there is also a good bit of evidence that the state of your overall health may have an impact on your risk of dementia and memory loss.

According to a Hippocampus, tooth loss can lead to impairment in spatial memory. In the study, rats who had their teeth removed did poorly in a maze test compared to rats who did not have their teeth pulled.

Another study, from the 2009 Journal of Prosthodontic Research, came to a similar conclusion. In that study, the molars (back teeth) of rats were removed. According to the researchers, the results "suggested that molar loss may be a cause of learning/memory impairment."

Further back, in 2006, an article titled "Researchers Find Link Between Teeth and Memory Loss" appeared in The Register in the UK. Here, too, researchers claimed to find a connection between tooth loss and memory loss:
Simply put: those who keep a full set of teeth have better powers of memory than those that don't. The researchers, who study age, memory, senility and health as part of the Betula Project, say they've observed the correlation in over 2,000 people.

A related study published in 2007 in The Journal of the American Dental Association found that elderly individuals with missing teeth were more likely to develop dementia as they got older. The researchers looked at a group of Catholic nuns aged 75 to 98. Nuns who had the fewest teeth at the beginning of the study (with no dementia at that time) later were much more likely to develop Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

The authors of the study were unable to pinpoint a cause for the observation. Their guess was that individuals missing the most teeth perhaps had health problems when they were younger that affected both their dentition and their brain health. For example, they may have had certain infections, chronic diseases, or nutritional deficiencies that the other nuns who didn't contract dementia didn't have.

Their hypothesis might not be far off the mark. In 2011, researchers found that that people in poor healthy are at greater risk of dementia. In an article in the American Academy of Neurology, they explained that people in the study who rated their own health as poor were far more likely to have memory problems later in life.

I don't know if you would consider your own health to be poor, but you can see the potential connection: general poor health can lead to poor oral health and poor brain health simultaneously.

From these studies it seems there could be a link between tooth loss and memory loss, but clearly more research needs to be done to identify the exact relationship between the two. Plus, from your description it sounds like your memory problems started immediately after your extractions, but that could be a coincidence.

So is the memory loss you sense yourself experiencing related to the loss of your teeth in your individual case? The studies above provide food for thought, but there is no way for me to know the answer to that question. It's a question you should ask your doctor.

Best regards,
Douglas J.

Note: Like everything on my site, this information is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice. It is up to you to consult with a qualified medical professional as appropriate for your situation.

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