Alzeimers DiseaseWe’re continuing our discussion about periodontal disease’s relationship to larger health issues. While gum disease has long been linked to diabetes and heart disease, there are new studies showing your inflamed gums could lead to other health issues. More importantly, there is growing proof that gum disease treatment could even slow those diseases’s growth.

Last month, we looked at the commonalities between gum disease and certain types of cancer. A new study out of the United Kingdom reports the body’s response to periodontitis could lead to a greater cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the most common cause of dementia among older adults. An estimated 5.3 million Americans had Alzheimer’s in 2015, and by 2050, it’s projected that 13.8 million people will be living with the disease. Of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the only one that currently cannot be prevented, cured or slowed, making this type of research vital in providing clues as to what causes and contributes to the disease.

Gum disease shown to lead to a six-fold increase in cognitive decline

The early stage research out of the UK was led by teams from the University of Southampton and King’s College London and published in the journal PLOS ONE. While the sample was small and further research is needed to solidify the connection, the study found that the presence of gum disease was associated with a six-fold increase in cognitive decline. Just like with gum disease, inflammation is a component of Alzheimer’s, and these findings may also support that inflammation in the brain itself drives the disease.

Not the first study of its kind, in 2010 researchers at New York University also found that gum disease may increase risk for cognitive dysfunction in both healthy individuals and those already suffering from cognitive impairment. When analyzing cognitive function through the Digit Symbol Test, researchers found subjects at age 70 were nine times more likely to exhibit low cognitive function if they had periodontal disease.

How could gum disease cause Alzheimer’s disease?

It’s possible that oral bacteria could disseminate through the bloodstream and enter the brain, causing or exacerbating lesions. Researchers also say that because of the role of chronic inflammation in Alzheimer’s, long-term exposure to periodontitis could start or cause neuropathological changes. Periodontal disease is a risk factor for stroke, and stroke is a significant risk factor for dementia and has been related to the severity of clinical symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients. Finally, researchers suggest that the inflammation and tooth loss related to periodontitis accelerate weight and muscle loss as the patient loses the ability to eat a variety of nutritious foods, which may accelerate degeneration of the brain.

Could periodontal disease treatment slow dementia’s progress?

If there is a direct relationship between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s, it’s possible that enhanced oral hygiene and gum disease treatment could slow progress of the disease. Researchers did take into account that periodontitis can be more common in patients with dementia because of a reduced ability to care for their oral health. Additional research is needed to prove whether gum disease is triggering the faster decline of patients with dementia, or vice versa.

If you are concerned about your risk for gum disease, get to know the signs and call Caffaratti Dental Group right away at (775) 358-1555 if you are in need of periodontal disease treatment.