Alzheimer’s patients with gum disease appear to experience faster congnitive decline than those with better dental health, a new study has shown.
The research on patients with mild to moderate levels of Alzheimer’s disease builds on previous evidence which has linked periodontitis with higher levels of inflammatory molecules associated with deteriorated mental health.
Teams at the University of Southampton and King’s College London carried out conginitive assessments on 59 people, and also took their blood samples to test for inflammatory markers.
A dental hygienist also assessed their oral health.
The majority of the participants were then assessed once more six months later.
Researchers found that participants with gum disease had a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline.
Gum disease is common in older people and could be worsened in those with Alzheimer’s as it becomes more difficult for patients to care for their teeth.
The study which was published in the journal ‘Plos One’ suggested that the body’s inflammatory response to gum disease could explain the link between gum disease and cognitive deterioration.
Professor Clive Holmes, senior author from the University of Southampton, said that further research is needed to develop the findings of the small trial.
"However, if there is a direct relationship between periodontitis and cognitive decline, as this current study suggests, then treatment of gum disease might be a possible treatment option for Alzheimer's."
Mark Ide, from the Dental Institute at King's College London, said that studies have also shown a link between developing dementia and having fewer teeth.
“Research has suggested that effective gum treatment can reduce the levels of these molecules closer to that seen in a healthy state."
Commening on the research, Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society said it is unclear whether gum disease is a cause or effect for faster decline in dementia, visa versa.
"This study adds evidence to the idea that gum disease could potentially be a contributing factor to Alzheimer's, but we would need to see clinical trials to provide more solid evidence. If this is proven to be the case, better dental hygiene would offer a relatively straightforward way to help slow the progression of dementia and enable people to remain independent for longer.
He added that carers can speak to a dentist or hygienist if they are concerned a person with dementia has stopped brushing their teeth.
Additional reporting by PA
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