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link between gum disease and Alzheimers

A new study jointly led by King’s College London and the University of Southampton has found a link between gum disease and greater rates of cognitive decline in people with early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Periodontitis or gum disease is common in older people and may become more common in Alzheimer’s disease because of a reduced ability to take care of oral hygiene as the disease progresses.

In the observational study, 59 participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease were cognitively assessed. Participants’ dental health was assessed by a dental hygienist who was blind to cognitive outcomes. The majority of participants (52) were followed-up at six months when all assessments were repeated.

The presence of gum disease at baseline was associated with a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline in participants over the six-month follow-up period of the study.The authors conclude that gum disease is associated with an increase in cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s Disease, possibly via mechanisms linked to the body’s inflammatory response.

Dr Mark Ide, first author from the Dental Institute at King’s College London [and specialist periodontist and prosthodontist at H Williams and Associates] says:  “Gum disease is widespread in the UK and US, and in older age groups is thought to be a major cause of tooth loss. In the UK in 2009, around 80% of adults over 55 had evidence of gum disease, whilst 40% of adults aged over 65-74 (and 60% of those aged over 75) had less than 21 of their original 32 teeth, with half of them reporting gum disease before they lost teeth.

“A number of studies have shown that having few teeth, possibly as a consequence of earlier gum disease, is associated with a greater risk of developing dementia. We also believe, based on various research findings, that the presence of teeth with active gum disease results in higher body-wide levels of the sorts of inflammatory molecules which have also been associated with an elevated risk of other outcomes such as cognitive decline or cardiovascular disease. Research has suggested that effective gum treatment can reduce the levels of these molecules closer to that seen in a healthy state. 

“Previous studies have also shown that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease have poorer dental health than others of similar age and that the more severe the dementia the worse the dental health, most likely reflecting greater difficulties with taking care of oneself as dementia becomes more severe.”

‘Periodontitis and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease’ by Ide et al is published online in the journal PLOS ONE on Thursday 10 March 2016 http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0151081.

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