Regularly brushing your teeth may do more than simply protect your oral health from dental decay and gum disease; it may also have an impact on your brain and cognitive function, according to a new study from researchers at King’s College London. This latest study offers more evidence as to the overall impact oral health has on our overall health and why it’s important patients in the community regularly visits a Colorado Springs dentist.
In this latest study, researchers discovered that gum disease might be linked to accelerated cognitive decline among individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This study doesn’t mark the first time researchers have uncovered a potential connection between poor oral health and chronic disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, but it does once again bring up a familiar question: Can an individual’s oral health really have an affect on the brain and cognitive function?
The Oral Health Connection
As part of the study, researchers examined 59 study participants who suffered from moderate to mild Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers discovered conditions that cause inflammation such as gum disease have some kind of effect on cognitive decline. The team tested the cognitive ability of participants, in addition to markers for inflammation in their blood samples. Researchers also had the participants visit a dental hygienist, who determined the current state to their oral health. Participants were checked on six months later. During the checkups, researchers found that if a participant suffered from gum disease, he or she showed an increase in cognitive decline by six-fold and evidence of increased inflammation.
This latest study continues to build on early work that found similar evidence that chronic inflammatory conditions help to accelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s in patient’s suffering from the disease. Researchers caution that this small study only followed patients six months out from their initial examinations, and that further research is needed to truly understand the connection between inflammation and Alzheimer’s. However, if a direct link exists between cognitive decline and gum disease, then researchers believe that treatment for gum disease may also severe as a possible treatment option for Alzheimer’s.
Understanding Cause and Effect
It’s difficult to determine whether the data is a result of correlation or causation. It’s possible that people with declining cognitive symptoms related to Alzheimer’s may have a higher risk of gum disease because they no longer can adequately care for themselves and their oral health.
While a 2013 study found the bacteria that causes gum disease in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s, many scientists remain skeptical about the connection between oral health and cognitive health. It’s likely that the bacteria was successfully able to penetrate the blood brain barrier more easily due to the inflammation caused by Alzheimer’s, but this doesn’t mean that the bacteria in any way caused the disease to develop. In other recent studies, gum disease has also been linked to colorectal cancer, heart disease and breast cancer, though much of the evidence involved in these studies remain inconclusive.
While the associations remain uncertain, the Alzheimer’s Society encourages dementia patients to maintain quality oral hygiene throughout all stages of the disease. Whether oral health can act as an entry to overall health remains to be seen, practicing daily flossing and brushing habits have an enormously important impact on more than just the health of your teeth.
If you have any questions about the importance of practicing quality daily oral hygiene, feel free to ask your Colorado Springs dentist during your next appointment Four Season Dental Care.