Dental Health and Mental Health

What does loss of teeth have to do with cognitive function? Not much one would think. However, research indicates that as dental health affects your overall health by contributing to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illnesses, it also contributes to the health of your mind. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a study to determine if tooth loss affected your memory, and the results determined it did. So, if there aren’t enough reasons to schedule routine visits with your dentist, there is another. If you think you’re losing teeth, or concerned about loose teeth, your Lake Forest dentist, Dr. James Fondriest, can discuss the issue of tooth loss and answer any questions.

The Study


To examine the relationship between dental health and cognitive function (memory, speech, reading comprehension, the ability to learn new information, and the ability to process thoughts) researchers performed cognitive tests on dental patients noting such dental health issues as tooth loss and periodontitis, or gum disease. The brains of healthy individuals are capable of learning and retaining new skills in all cognitive areas. Disease, however, can affect cognitive function, resulting in difficulty retrieving words while speaking or writing, and memory loss. The cognitive tests involved word fluency, word recall, and number skills.

Subjects with fewer teeth scored lower than subjects with more teeth, and those with no teeth had worse scores than those with fewer teeth. Gum health also proved a factor. Those with more teeth and healthier gums performed better on the tests. The less healthy the gums, and the more teeth missing, the worse the scores. Those with no teeth, and bleeding gums, scored the lowest of all.


The Chicken or the Egg


This brings to mind the chicken and egg phenomenon, leading us to wonder which came first. Tooth loss due to poor diet, explains decreased brain function. The foods we consume affect our brain. If we are consuming foods that have little or no nutritional value, those low in anitoxidants, our brain will suffer for it. The following nutrients need time to “feed” the brain. When they are decreased for a matter of a few days, changes in mood and brain function become noticeable and there is no immediate fix.

  • Foods with vitamins B and C
  • Foods with insufficient amounts of sugar

However, tooth loss due to gum disease, or periodontitis, is an inflammatory disease and may cause inflammation in other parts of the body affecting your overall health. Inflammation is your immune systems way of defending you from harmful microbial infections caused by bacteria and viruses. Redness and swelling are the immune systems first response. However, this inflammation is not limited to the site of infection. It can spread throughout the body and when your body is suffering illness, the hippocampus is disrupted. Your hippocampus is required for memory formation and for processing information such as places and contexts. Therefore, it could appear that you are losing mental function, when cognition is compromised by infection resulting from gum disease.


It may also be the other way around. Tooth loss can lead to a poor diet because of the inability to chew certain foods. Chewing serves two functions, it breaks down food releasing nutrients and aiding digestion, and it stimulates blood flow to the brain. A correlation has been found between declining mental capacity and the ability to chew solid foods.


Routine dental checkups including professional cleanings along with proper home care are necessary to avoid tooth loss. Visit your Lake Forest dentist, Dr. Fondriest, twice yearly. Brush with a fluoride tooth paste twice daily. Floss daily, and rinse with an anti-bacterial mouthwash.

About Your Lake Forest Dentist:


If you have questions or concerns about tooth loss and its affect on your cognitive abilities, Dr. Fondriest can discuss your symptoms and concerns and suggest treatment that’s right for you. Aside from providing dependable family, general, and restorative dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from the greater Chicago Metro area. To schedule a consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.