The next time you brush and floss your teeth, consider this: You may be reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease in addition to preventing a cavity.
Researchers from King's College London and the University of Southampton found periodontitis, or gum disease, may be linked with greater rates of cognitive decline among people with early stages of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the journal "PLOS ONE."
"These are very interesting results, which build on previous work we have done that shows that chronic inflammatory conditions have a detrimental effect on disease progression in people with Alzheimer’s disease," says professor Clive Holmes of the University of Southampton, senior author of the study, in a university-issued press release. "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 option for Alzheimer's."
Periodontitis is more common as we age and may be even more common in people with Alzheimer's disease because their ability to maintain good oral hygiene declines as the disease progresses.
Fifty-nine participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease were observed. Researchers assessed participants' cognitive ability and inflammatory markers in blood samples and a dental hygienist assessed their oral health. The same measurements were taken six months later. Researchers found participants who had gum disease had a six-fold increase of cognitive decline after six months as well as increased inflammation.
Researchers concluded gum disease is associated with an increase in cognitive decline, but they can't determine if the relationship is a causation or correlation. Mark Ide, first author from the Dental Institute at King's says it is possible people with more advanced Alzheimer's may be more likely to develop gum disease because of an impaired ability to maintain oral health.
Gum disease has also been linked to breast cancer, colorectal cancer and heart problems, though most evidence remains inconclusive.