There was nothing for the older folk of Appalachia to smile about in the government’s latest study of toothlessness among the elderly, which found the poverty-stricken region leading the nation in tooth-loss.

Kentucky and West Virginia have the highest percentage of older adults missing all their natural teeth according to data collected in 2002 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Slightly more than 42 percent of residents 65 and older in Kentucky could make that dubious claim last year. West Virginians were a close second with 41.9 percent of seniors admitting they had shed their natural choppers.

In both states, older adults who were naturally toothless outnumbered those who could say they had lost five or fewer of their natural teeth.

Although the study, released Thursday, did not focus on the root causes of toothlessness in the states, researchers said they suspected a combination of economic, cultural and medical factors were responsible for wide variances in state results.

“We would imagine it probably reflects the impact of health behaviors such as smoking and oral hygiene practices and also socio-economic status in terms of income and education,” said Dr. Barbara Gooch, a CDC dental officer and the study’s lead author.
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