Food and Behaviour Research

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

Petrovsky DV, Wu B, Mao W, Dong X (2019) J Am Geriatr Soc.  2019 Aug;67 (S3):S532-S537. doi: 10.1111/jgs.15748. 

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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.


Two-wave epidemiological study.


Population Study of Chinese Elderly in Chicago (PINE).


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


We selected self-reported oral (tooth and gum) symptoms as independent variables. To examine changes in cognitivefunction (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.


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.


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. 


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