For years, we have seen the signs linking gum disease with dementia, including Alzheimer’s. In 2018, the strongest link yet was established when researchers showed explicitly that compounds released by oral bacteria could actually damage brain tissue, making a direct link between gum disease and dementia.
Now a new large study published in the prestigious journal Neurology reaffirms this link. It shows that people with gum disease experience an elevated risk of dementia. It also shows that those without teeth were at the highest risk.
A Large Population with Comprehensive Exams
The data for this study comes from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC). This is interesting in part because atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can also be influenced by gum disease, which is probably why patients were given periodontal exams in the first place.
In addition, participants received tests for cognitive impairment. This included neurocognitive tests, interviews, neurological exams, and even brain MRI in some cases.
Researchers gave patients full oral exams and divided them into gum disease categories if they had teeth or put them in an edentulous category if they didn’t.
They followed a total of 8275 patients for nearly 20 years, recording 1569 cases of dementia, about 19% of the population. They then compared the incidence of dementia among the different classes of gum disease and edentulism.
Researchers found that people with severe gum disease had a 22% higher risk of dementia than those with no gum disease. People with no teeth had essentially the same risk: 21% higher than people without gum disease.
When adding in patients with mild cognitive impairment, which doctors describe as a precursor or mild form of dementia, people without teeth were twice as likely as those with good oral health to develop these cognitive problems.
Researchers in this study note that they didn’t prove causation. Causation gets clear when we look at all the information. The data from 2018 provides a plausible mechanism showing we’re not looking at a coincidence. Based on the evidence, it’s hard to accept anything other than the fact that gum disease can contribute to dementia.
Oral Health Helps Overall Health
Holistic dentistry tells us: taking care of your oral health helps you take care of your overall health. As more information becomes available, we continue to face one unavoidable conclusion. Gum disease bacteria directly contribute to the development of dementia, likely including Alzheimer’s. It’s clear how important caring for your oral health is. You can reduce your risk of dementia and other conditions like heart disease and even cancer.
This means that it’s critical to keep getting preventive dental care. This can help preserve your mind as well as your teeth.
Preventive Dental Care in Rochester
If you are overdue for a checkup and professional cleaning, now is the time to schedule one. Please call (585) 244-3337 today for an appointment with one of our dentists at Contemporary Dentistry, offering a full range of dental care in Rochester, NY.