You’ve probably never considered how your oral health can impact your brain health, but here’s a reason to keep up with your dentist appointments: gum disease may increase your odds of developing dementia, according to a new study.
In a review of 47 previously published studies, researchers in Finland found that tooth loss, deep pockets around teeth in the gums, or bone loss in the tooth sockets was tied to a 21% higher risk of dementia and a 23% higher risk of milder cognitive decline.
Tooth loss itself — an indicator of gum, or periodontal, disease — was linked to a 23% higher risk of cognitive (mental) decline and a 13% higher risk of dementia, according to the study.
“Maintaining adequate periodontal health, including retention of healthy natural teeth, seems to be important also in the context of preventing cognitive decline and dementia,” says lead researcher Sam Asher, from the Institute of Dentistry at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio.
Asher notes that the study can’t prove that gum problems actually cause dementia. Still, prevention and treatment of periodontal conditions are particularly important in older adults who are at increased risk for dementia, he shares.
About 10% to 15% of the global adult population has gum inflammation known as periodontitis, the researchers pointed out in background notes. In severe cases, it leads to tooth loss, and prior research has linked it to heart disease and diabetes.
Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health in New York City, says, “There is growing evidence that somehow systemic inflammation and brain inflammation are linked.”
Periodontal disease, systemic viral illnesses, including herpes, COVID-19 and inflammatory bowel syndrome, among others, are capable of triggering brain inflammation, says Gandy.
“These associations do not necessarily involve direct invasion of the brain by microbes, but we still understand relatively little about the molecular basis for how systemic inflammation aggravates brain inflammation,” he adds.
However, there is good news. Many of your oral health concerns can be addressed before you begin to experience cognitive decline.Here’s how: