Impact of Tooth Loss on Hearing in Seniors – Insights from a Recent Study

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Hearing impairment and tooth loss both pose risks to the overall well-being of seniors, yet the connection between the two has remained unclear until now. A recent study published in the 'Journal of General Medicine in China' reveals that missing teeth can increase the risk of hearing impairment in the elderly.

The study, which included over 15,000 seniors aged 65 and above, was conducted by researchers from Peking University School of Stomatology and the Geriatric Medicine Research Department at Beijing Hospital. Through a questionnaire survey, participants were asked about their tooth count and categorized into four groups: 0 teeth, 1-9 teeth, 10-19 teeth, and 20 teeth or more. The researchers assessed the participants' hearing impairment based on the survey responses, dividing them into groups with normal hearing and those with hearing impairment. After adjusting for relevant confounding factors, the results showed that compared to participants with 20 teeth or more, those with 10-19 teeth, 1-9 teeth, and no teeth had a 1.3-fold, 1.5-fold, and 1.9-fold increased risk of hearing impairment, respectively. This risk was more pronounced in seniors above 80 years old and those not using dentures.

The researchers speculate that the increased risk of hearing impairment associated with tooth loss may be linked to neural blockages in the orofacial system. This involves a reduction or elimination of peripheral neural signals related to the oral and masticatory organs, leading to a reorganization of the sensory and motor cortex in the brain. This can impact the central nervous system for multisensory perception, ultimately contributing to or exacerbating degenerative changes in the auditory nerves and resulting in hearing loss.

As for the specific mechanisms by which dentures may reduce the risk of hearing impairment, it remains unclear. However, it is suggested that the reduced chewing load due to missing teeth, which is compensated by dentures, may decrease the inducement of changes in the orofacial system that contribute to hearing impairment. Additionally, tooth loss may lead to bacterial proliferation in the oral cavity, and since the oral and inner ear systems are interconnected through activities like mouth opening, a significant influx of bacteria may increase the risk of damage. Dentures, by restoring chewing function and slowing the rate of oral bacterial growth, could consequently lower the risk of hearing impairment.

Therefore, maintaining good oral health not only impacts oral hygiene but also benefits hearing. Seniors are advised to follow these recommendations: firstly, maintain oral hygiene through brushing, flossing, and mouthwash; secondly, undergo regular dental check-ups for examinations and cleanings to address dental issues promptly; thirdly, adopt a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables while minimizing sugar intake; fourthly, quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption.

For seniors already experiencing tooth loss, remedial measures can be taken. The first option is using dentures, which can be full or partial. Another option is dental implants, involving the insertion of artificial tooth roots into the missing tooth area, followed by the attachment of dental crowns to replace the lost teeth. This is a more durable and stable solution."

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