A 2016 study performed jointly by the University of Southamptom and King's College London reported a link between gum disease and greater rates of cognitive decline in people with early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Periodontitis, or gum disease, is common in older people and is likely more common in Alzheimer's disease because of the reduced ability to take care of oral hygiene as the disease progresses. The increased levels of antibodies to periodontal bacteria are associated with increased levels of inflammatory molecules elsewhere in the body, which in turn has been linked to greater rates of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease.
In the Southampton study, researchers set out to determine whether periodontitis is associated with increased severity of the disease or with subsequent escalation of cognitive decline in people developing the disease.
Regarding the study, Professor Clive Holmes, senior author from Southampton, stated at its conclusion: "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. Our study was small and lasted for six months so further trials need to be carried out to develop these results. However, if there is a direct relationship between periodontitis and cognitive decline, as this study suggests, then treatment of gum disease might be a possible treatment option for risk of Alzheimer's."
Researchers note that the study should be replicated with a larger cohort, as the precise means by which gum disease may be linked to cognitive decline are not fully transparent and other factors may play a part in cognitive decline alongside oral health.
Gum disease is an infection caused by bacteria that get under the gum tissue. Toxins from bacteria and the body’s response to infection can begin to destroy the gums and bone that support the teeth.
According to the July Journal of the American Dental Association, an estimated 42 percent of U.S. adults age 30 years with teeth have periodontitis, with about 7.8 percent of those adults having severe periodontitis. The American Dental Association recommends the practice of good oral hygiene daily, including brushing properly at least twice a day, using toothpaste, flossing, eating a healthy diet that limits sugary beverages and snacks and visiting a dentist regularly for prevention and treatment of oral disease.