Background: Both oral health problems and cognitive impairment are relatively common among older adults. Poorer oral health appears to contribute to a decline in quality of life and to be related to various medical conditions. Little is known about the relationship of cognitive function to oral health among community-dwelling older adults.
Methods: The sample included 1984 dentate community-dwelling older adults 60 years old or older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, 1999-2002) who completed both the study cognitive measure and dental examination. Weighted descriptive and multivariate regression analyses were performed.
Results: Multivariate analyses showed that cognitive function was associated with oral health. Individuals with lower cognitive scores had a higher number of decayed and missing teeth and a higher proportion of periodontitis sites. The predicted number of decayed teeth increased by 0.01 with each 1-point decrease in the Digit Symbol Substitution Test score; the number of missing teeth increased by 0.02; and the percentage of sites with periodontal disease increased by 0.02. In addition, individuals' sociodemographic characteristics, health behavior, and regular dental checkups were significantly associated with oral health.
Conclusions: This study suggests that community-dwelling elders with lower cognitive function scores have greater deterioration of oral health. This study provides a preliminary knowledge base for the development of early intervention strategies to address oral health problems among older adults.