Numerous studies support a link between periodontal disease and dementia. All countries are experiencing an increase in the number of people over the age of 65, and Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia in the US population.
This article gives a summary of Alzheimer’s disease, discusses the etiology and epidemiology of periodontitis, and delineates some reasonable theories supporting a possible link between periodontal disease and dementia.
A study of dementia led by University of South California researchers revealed that missing teeth and chronic inflammation of the mouth at an early age quadruples the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, which was presented at the first Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia, looked at the records of over a hundred pairs of identical twins.
Each pair consisted of one twin who had developed dementia, and one who had not. Acting on the principle that identical twins share the same genetic blueprint, the study looked into external factors that could have led to the mental demise of the demented twin.
Dementia is an umbrella term that includes Alzheimer’s disease, and once correctly diagnosed in the twins examined, researchers looked into several potentially modifiable risk factors that could have brought it on.
Among these were: periodontal disease before age 35, the experience of a stroke before the onset of dementia, physical exercise between ages 25-50 and years of education.
Titled Potentially Modifiable Risk Factors From Dementia: Evidence from Identical Twins, the study found that a stroke could increase the risk of dementia six-fold in later years, while periodontal disease in early years quadruples that risk.
Lead author Margaret Gatz said the link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s does not mean that extra flossing will defend against dementia, adding that catchphrases like “Brush your teeth: Prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” are excessively naive.
Periodontal disease should instead be seen as an indication of exposure to inflammation, which in turn can proceed to harm brain tissue and cause dementia, Gatz said.
Another study, this time published in the Archives of Neurology, gives credibility to the idea that diets high in folic acid may be connected with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Folic acid is one of the B Vitamins, and supplementation may be beneficial not only for Alzheimer’s but also periodontal disease, as well as acne, anemia, cataracts, constipation, fatigue, gout, infertility, restless legs syndrome, and seborrheic dermatitis.
Apart from the studies being done to establish a link between periodontal disease and dementia, researchers are also working on a possible connection between periodontitis and cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death worldwide.
This study is significant because maintaining good cardiovascular health might help to maintain the brain’s health.