Study Finds Link Between Gum Disease and Dementia

Close up of a man's mouth, showing his teeth

By Patricia LaCroix, Contributing Writer

The reasons to take good care of your teeth and gums as you age were numerous already. Healthy teeth are important for eating properly and getting good nutrition in food. The loss of teeth necessitates costly and burdensome replacements. Unhealthy gums can be linked to issues such as heart disease and can increase one’s risks of infection.

Now add the risk of developing dementia to the list of problems caused by gum disease. A large study led by scientists by the United State’s National Institute of Health suggests that the 700 different species of bacteria that can be found living in the human mouth can also increase one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementias — in particular, vascular dementia. The results of the study were original reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

How gum disease affects more than just one’s mouth

Gum disease is the result of the infection of the tissues that hold teeth in place. Symptoms include bleeding gums, loose teeth, and loss of teeth.

The health issues that arise from gum disease, however, can go beyond the gums and are not limited to problems within the mouth. The bacteria that causes the gum disease can travel from the mouth through the bloodstream, and eventually, these molecules can make their way to one’s brain.

There have been previous studies that have suggested bacteria from gum disease could produce situations that eventually lead to dementia, but no large studies had taken place to support the theory.

Enter the NIA Intramural Research Program team

NIA Intramural Research Program team concluded their results based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which was a large population study performed by the Central for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. The NIA’s team looked to see if gum disease and mouth bacterial infections were connected to dementia using both Medicare records and the National Death Index. The team covered different age groups over 26 years that included more than 6,000 participants.

Bacteria enemy number one

There were 19 oral bacteria tested for an association with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, diagnosis of any kind of dementia, and death from Alzheimer’s. Of those 19, Porphyromonas gingivalis was found to be the most common culprit of gum disease. Another study has suggested that the plaques of beta-amyloid protein, a major hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, might be produced as a response to this bacterial infection.

What this means for older adults

In the end, the study showed that participating older adults with signs of gum disease and mouth infections at baseline were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Among those 65 years or older, both Alzheimer’s diagnoses and deaths were associated with antibodies against the oral bacterium P. gingivalis, which can cluster with other bacteria such as Campylobacter rectus and Prevotella melaninogenica to further increase those risks.

Yet another reason for good oral care

While it’s not yet definitive that this study has revealed causation rather than association, even the suggestion that gum disease and dementia could be connected makes yet again a strong case for good oral care. For the most part, the steps are easy. However, it’s true that as one gets older, one might become lax in this area of care. It’s important as caregivers to seniors that we support them as much as possible in receiving good care: ensuring that the teeth are properly brushed, that floss is used, that dentures are cleaned correctly, and that the dentist is seen regularly.

For more information on how to help older adults with their oral care, please CLICK HERE to read our article. And if you want to make sure that your older loved one always receives good dental care and assistance with that, we at Care & Comfort at Home can help. Contact us today by calling 630-333-9262 in Chicagoland, 720-492-0080 in the Denver area, or just CLICK HERE to contact us via our online form for either location.

Information courtesy of National Institute on Aging.

Click HERE to read our medical disclaimer.