Memory Mondays: Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s

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Oral health often indicates issues in other areas of the body. Now, a new study notes a relationship between gum disease and Alzheimer’s.

People who have had periodontitis for over 10 years are 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those without periodontitis. That is according to a new study from Chung Shan Medical University in Taichung City, Taiwan.

Using data provided by Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Research Database, the researchers sought to determine if there was a link between people over age 50 with chronic gum disease and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Periodontitis, or chronic gum inflammation, typically corresponds with inflammation elsewhere in the body. Researchers also accounted for other factors said to influence Alzheimer’s risk, such as diabetes and stroke.

The study proved no overall link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. That is to say it did not deduce whether Alzheimer’s causes periodontitis or vice versa. However, it did show that periodontitis does indeed correlate with a decline in cognitive ability.

“Our findings support the notion that infectious diseases associated with low-grade inflammation, such as chronic periodontitis, may play a substantial role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease,” the study team concluded. “These findings highlight the need to prevent progression of periodontal disease and promote health care services at the national level.”

Some researchers believe that the relationship between gum disease and Alzheimer’s goes both ways.

“Currently, with the scientific evidence that is available, we cannot be sure if the risk factor is either periodontal disease or Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Yago Leira Feijoo from Universidad de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He didn’t work on the study.

Regardless, the findings from Taiwan indicate that brain and dental health are closely connected. As such, it’s important for seniors to brush their teeth and visit the dentist regularly to prevent periodontitis development.