Can Oral Health Affect Cognitive Health? New Study Suggesting Link Between Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s

Virtually all (99.7%) of adults surveyed by AACD believe a healthy smile is socially important — but now there’s evidence that oral health can have an impact on brain function.

According to new research out of King’s College London and the University of Southampton, gum disease may be associated with faster cognitive decline among people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers looked at 59 patients who had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and found a correlation between inflammatory conditions, like gum disease, and cognitive decline.

Six months later, they found that if a person had gum disease, they had a six times increase in cognitive decline and increased inflammation.

Professor Clive Holmes, of the University of Southampton and senior author of the study, said in the press release, “Our study was small and lasted for six months so further trials need to be carried out to develop these results. However, if there is a direct relationship between periodontitis and cognitive decline, as this current study suggests, then treatment of gum disease might be a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s.”

Further, a 2013 study found gum disease bacteria in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, but many scientists still remain very skeptical about the link between oral hygiene and the cognitive condition.

The situation of causation or correlation has been brought up as a possible factor in the interpretation of the data. For instance, it is possible that patients with worse Alzheimer’s symptoms may have been less able to take care of their oral health because of their impaired abilities, and therefore more likely to develop gum disease, said Dr. Mark Ide of the Dental Institute at King’s College London.

The Alzheimer’s Society encourages dementia patients to maintain good dental hygiene throughout all stages of the disease, since oral health is a way to maintain overall health, regardless of the unclear associations made in the study.

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