Oral Health Symptoms and Cognitive Function Among US Community-Dwelling Chinese Older Adults

Darina V. Petrovsky, Bei Wu, Weiyu Mao, Xin Qi Dong

Publication Date: 08/12/2019

BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: Limited research is available on the relationship between oral health symptoms and cognitive function among community-dwelling US Chinese older adults. The purpose of this study was to examine the associations between tooth/gum symptoms and changes in cognitive function.

DESIGN: Two-wave epidemiological study.

SETTING: Population Study of Chinese Elderly in Chicago (PINE).

PARTICIPANTS: US Chinese older adults (N = 2713; mean age = 72.6 y; 58.4% women).

MEASUREMENTS: We selected self-reported oral (tooth and gum) symptoms as independent variables. To examine changes in cognitive function (wave 2: Baseline), we chose the following three domains: episodic memory (East Boston Memory Test); executive function (Symbol Digit Modalities Test); and working memory (Digit Span Backwards). In addition, we assessed global cognitive function by constructing a composite measure. RESULTS: At baseline, 1297 participants (47.8%) reported having teeth symptoms, and 513 participants (18.9%) reported having gum symptoms. Adjusting for sociodemographic and health-related characteristics, participants who reported having teeth symptoms at baseline experienced their global cognition decrease by 0.07 units (estimate = −0.07; p =.003) and their episodic memory decrease by 0.07 units (estimate = −0.07; p =.026). Participants who reported having teeth symptoms at baseline experienced a faster rate of decline in global cognition for every additional year (estimate = 0.02; p =.047). However, this effect disappeared once we adjusted for all covariates (estimate = 0.02; p =.069). We found no significant relationship between baseline gum symptoms and change of cognitive function.

CONCLUSION: Having teeth symptoms was associated with a decline in cognitive function among US Chinese older adults. Developing policy measures aimed at ameliorating health and improving cognition in this high-risk fast-growing population in the United States would need to include oral health preventive and dental care services. J Am Geriatr Soc 67:S532–S537, 2019.