New Study Suggests Poor Gum Health Could Be Linked To Dementia Later In Life

A red toothbrush
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When gum problems get serious and become periodontal disease, they can reportedly cause a variety of health conditions in the afflicted. Diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and strokes are among the most serious risk factors.

According to CNN, on Wednesday, a new paper was published by the medical journal Neurology from the American Academy of Neurology indicated advanced periodontitis could significantly increase the potential of being diagnosed with dementia.

Ryan Demmer, the research’s author and an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said that he and his colleagues “looked at people’s dental health over a 20-year period and found that people with the most severe gum infection at the start of our study had about twice the risk for mild cognitive impairment or dementia by the end.”

The article noted that impairment could occur as late as 20 years after contracting gum disease, which can also “ultimately cause tooth and bone loss.”

Despite the apparent link between the two conditions, it does not equate to causation. Periodontal disease may not be the decisive factor linking the many serious problems that can occur if not treated.

Demmer hypothesized that an “oral microbiome,” which is a type of bacteria that causes periodontitis and “systemic outcomes,” might be “central.”

Further studies would need to be conducted to demonstrate the concrete link between “microbes in your mouth and dementia, and to understand if treatment for gum disease can prevent dementia.”

A close-up of a woman wearing red lipstick and smiling with teeth
  Marek Studzinski / Unsplash

CNN wrote that the researchers followed more than 8,200 participants over approximately 18 years. Each person was tested for dementia and “undertook a full periodontal exam” at the start.

By the end of the study, 19 percent had developed dementia. Of those who had all of their teeth and healthy gums, only 14 percent had a cognitive decline. Eighteen percent of the participants with mild gum disease had the condition by the end, and 22 percent of the group with severe gum disease had dementia at that time.

Finally, 23 percent of the group members how had no teeth at all also contracted the illness.

“The study accounted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking,” noted the publication.

Demmer also pointed out that there are different types of mental decline and a smaller group linked gum disease to Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

However, it is important to note that those who took part in the trial were mostly in their early 60s, and it is possible that cognitive impairment began before the gum problems or loss of teeth.

As CNN indicated, the ongoing pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for people, especially those from older demographics, to go to the dentist and receive treatment, which is worrisome to many.