Having more natural teeth is not only a sign of good oral health but also makes you better at performing everyday tasks, new research suggests.

According to a study of more than 5,000 adults living in England aged between 50 and 70, tooth loss may affect a person’s ability to do things such as cooking a meal, making a telephone call or going shopping.

Scientists from University College London (UCL) and the Tokyo Medical and Dental University made the link even after considering factors like socio-economic status and poor general health of participants.

“We know from previous studies that tooth loss is associated with reduced functional capacity, but this study is the first to provide evidence about the causal effect of tooth loss on the instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) among older adults in England. And this effect is considerable,” said UCL’s professor Georgios Tsakos, senior author of the research.

“For example, older adults with 10 natural teeth are 30% more likely to have difficulties with key activities of daily living such as shopping for groceries or working around the house or garden compared to those with 20 natural teeth.

“Even after taking in factors such as participant’s education qualification, self-rated health and their parent’s education level for example, we still found a positive association between the number of natural teeth a person had and their functional ability.”

The study – published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society – looked at data from 5,631 people.

Adults typically have up to 32 teeth.

Researchers claim having more natural teeth is associated with delaying the onset of disability and death, but warn that tooth loss can also hamper social interactions, thereby taking a toll on quality of life.

However, they said the results must be taken with caution, calling for further studies to be carried out for a deeper understanding of the relationship between tooth loss and functional ability.

“Preventing tooth loss is important for maintaining functional capacity among older adults in England,” said first author Dr Yusuke Matsuyama, from Tokyo Medical and Dental University.

“Given the high prevalence of tooth loss, this effect is considerable and maintaining good oral health throughout the life course could be one strategy to prevent or delay loss of functional competence.

“The health gain from retaining natural teeth may not be limited to oral health outcomes but have wider relevance for promoting functional capacity and improving overall quality of life.”