Could there be a connection between longer life expectancy and good oral health? That is the question Dr. Laura Kaufman, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of General Dentistry, explores in her recent publication, “An Oral Health Study of Centenarians and Children of Centenarians.” The study appears in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Dr. Kaufman and her colleagues found a positive relationship may exist between the longer life spans of centenarians (people who live 100+ years) and the maintenance of good oral health.
“Our study confirmed that many older adults—including those aged 70, 80, 90 and 100+—are keeping their natural dentition over their lifetime, with good oral health often an indicator of good systemic health,” Dr. Kaufman said.
According to an ongoing survey conducted by the New England Centenarian Study (NECS), centenarians, and the children of centenarians, demonstrate a marked delay in systemic diseases relative to their contemporaries. Dr. Kaufman writes that while there is observational evidence to support a relationship between systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis and oral diseases such as periodontal disease, the American Heart Association contends there is no evidence to support a casual relation between them.
Dr. Kaufman’s research offers insight into the connection between the early onset of age-related diseases and the development of oral disease.
The publication proposes that centenarians and the children of centenarians exhibit better oral health than those born within the same time period. Much of the data in this study comes from an oral health questionnaire (developed by BU faculty and researchers) for study participants to answer by mail. The survey looked at several measures of oral health, focusing especially on the rate of edentulism, defined as complete tooth loss.
34.9% of centenarians had more than half of their teeth remaining, with an edentulous rate of 36.5%. This compares favorably with the edentulous rate of their birth cohorts, which is 46% (according to National Center of Health statistics). Of the centenarian offspring, 85.1% had more than half of their natural teeth remaining, and 3.4% had no natural teeth remaining. In comparison, 76.9% of the control group reported more than half of their natural teeth, and 7% reported no remaining natural teeth. Of the centenarian offspring, 63.2% had excellent or very good oral health, compared with 54.1% of an offspring control group.
Dr. Kaufman says, “As dental health care providers it is our responsibility to monitor our aging patients for possible cognitive or physical issues that may impair their ability to maintain oral health. In these cases, we can provide proactive guidance to our patients and their caregivers on how to maintain a healthy oral dentition until the end of life.”