It’s easy to think of oral hygiene limited to the health of your teeth, gum and mouth. However, studies show that oral hygiene may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Periodontitis, also known as gum disease or gingivitis, is a very common inflammatory condition. It causes the gums to swallow, redden and even bleed. 47.2% of American adults aged 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease, according to a CDC report. Although periodontitis is an oral hygiene issue first and foremost, the health of your mouth, teeth and gums also affects your general health.
According to recent studies, periodontal disease may be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
50 million people worldwide have dementia. For the general population aged 60 and over, around 5-8% suffer from dementia, according to World Health Organization (WHO). The term dementia refers to all diseases and conditions that show a decline in mental capacity and impact a person’s ability to function independently. Memory loss is a common example of dementia. But dementia also leads to a decline in language, problem-solving and other critical thinking skills.
Dementia is often confused with Alzheimer’s disease. There are about 70 diseases that degenerative cause dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common cause. Alzheimer’s disease, by definition, is a progressive disorder that causes brain cells to degenerate and die.
Researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea published a paper in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society that revealed a link between severe periodontitis and dementia, according to Medical News Today.
Their “retrospective cohort study” revealed that lifestyle factors, such as alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise, don’t have any effect on the connection between periodontitis and dementia.
The best way to prevent dementia is to reduce the risk
“The exact cause of dementia is unknown, and there’s no cure. So the best way to prevent dementia is to minimize the risk of developing the disease by controlling the factors that increase the risk. It’s also a good idea to schedule regular checkups for early diagnosis,” said Dr. Kyung-Ri Kang of Kyung Hee School of Dental Medicine, according to Kormedi. She added, “You may think it doesn’t matter at all, but one of the factors to consider is periodontal diseases.”
Unhealthy gums increase the risk of developing dementia. “Tooth loss leads to difficulty chewing, which decreases blood flow to the brain as well as metabolism and neural activity in the brain. This causes systemic malnutrition, which affects cognitive decline,” said Dr. Kang. “If you don’t have healthy teeth and gums, you can’t chew well, and that increases the risk of dementia.”
One study asked older adults to bite down on their teeth. It found that those with dental implants had a higher level of cerebral blood flow than those with dentures. Other studies have reported that chewing itself releases fibroblast growth factors, which regulates appetite and promotes growth, brain cell recovery, learning and memory formation.
Dementia can’t be cured. The best way to treat it at the moment is through early diagnosis, interventions that slow the progression and maintaining oral health and overall health. According to Dr. Kang, “Oral health is a window to your overall health. So start with what you can to prevent dementia.”