Poor Oral Health Linked to Dementia

Can Poor Dental Health Cause Dementia?

***UPDATED: July 24, 2015*** A recent study has identified evidence that saliva could be used to detect changes related to Alzheimer’s, a disease that is traditionally diagnosed at a late stage using costly and invasive techniques.  According to an article in the Dental Tribune, subjects were divided into three groups: patients with Alzheimer’s, those with mild cognitive impairment and controls with normal cognitive aging. Analysis of saliva found higher levels of metabolites in the Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment group predicted worse memory performance when compared to the control group. Higher levels of other metabolites predicted slower speed in processing information too. “Saliva is easily obtained, safe and affordable, and has promising potential for predicting and tracking cognitive decline,” said lead researcher Shraddha Sapkota, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of Alberta. The findings will require further studying, but it’s a step in the right direction in unlocking the mystery of this complicated disease.

***UPDATED: 12/29/12*** A recently published study, “Dentition, Dental Health Habits, and Dementia: The Leisure World Cohort Study,” confirmed research findings from earlier this year, linking poor oral health to dementia.  The latest work was completed at a retirement community in Laguna Hills, California, and followed the oral health habits of approximately 5,468 adults between 1992 and 2010.  Participants were interviewed regarding their number of natural teeth, dentures, number of dental visits and oral health habits.  Results indicated that those who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day had at least a 65% greater risk of developing dementia than those who brushed three times daily.  Men who had issues with their ability to chew and who did not wear dentures had an astonishing 91% greater risk of developing dementia than those who had more of their own teeth and could chew.  The research results further prove the importance of oral health in relation to overall well-being.

A recent study out of Japan has linked poor oral health to yet another life threatening condition.  The research, which studied more than 4000 elderly people, indicates that individuals who have few teeth and who do not use dentures or visit the dentist regularly, are at a much higher risk for experiencing dementia than those who routinely practiced good dental hygiene.   A recent Medscape Medical News article, “Poor Dental Health Linked to Dementia Onset,” by Deborah Brauser, discusses the study in depth, explaining how important it is to identify risk factors for the disease since effective treatments are virtually non-existent.

Yukio Hirata, PhD, DDS, and professor at the Kanagawa Dental College in Japan, points out that it is surprising that individuals with few teeth who do use dentures, were not at as high a risk for the onset of dementia as their counterparts who chose not to use the effective tooth replacement.  Dr. Hirata claims that this result suggests that denture treatment might prevent dementia.  Data was collected on 4,425 adults over the age of 65, with 55% of the participants being women.  All subjects completed a survey in 2003 which included questions on oral history, number of teeth, use of dentures, ability to chew, regular dentist visits, and attitude about dental care.  From 2003 to 2007, 220 of the participants experienced the onset of dementia.  The data showed those with few teeth who did not use dentures were at a much higher risk for developing dementia, along with not visiting the dentist regularly, not being able to chew well, and not taking care of overall dental health.

This is not the first study to make connections between oral health and the development of dementia.  However, many are not convinced that poor oral health is a risk factor as opposed to being a side effect of the disease.  Robert Stewart, MD, and professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, United Kingdom, has also completed research in this area and describes how with the loss of cognitive function, many adults begin to neglect their oral health, leading to decay and eventually loss of teeth.  Additionally, tooth loss has been shown to negatively affect the diet and nutrition of the individual, especially when dentures are not utilized.  This suggests that perhaps nutrition plays a role in the onset of dementia as well.  Regardless of the cause and effect relationship between tooth loss and dementia, the study confirms what many already know.  It is undeniable that oral health is very closely connected to overall wellness, which is why it is so important to practice good oral hygiene in addition to visiting your dentist on a regular basis.

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