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Good Dental Care Is Crucial for People With Alzheimer’s

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Regular brushing and flossing of the teeth is important for all of us in order to prevent gum disease. It may be especially important for people with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new report. The study found that gum disease was linked to more rapid declines in memory and thinking skills in people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

For the study, researchers at Kings College London and the University of Southampton in England looked at 59 men and women who had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They were given tests of memory and thinking skills, and a dental hygienist assessed their dental health. All of them were also given blood tests to look for signs of body-wide inflammation, which can result from periodontal disease.

Six months later, most of the study participants were again given assessments of dental and cognitive health.

The researchers found that those who had gum disease at the start of the study had a six-fold increase in the rate of mental decline over the ensuing six months. Their memories faded faster during this time, and they scored lower on cognitive tests.

Those with dental disease also had higher levels of proteins involved in the inflammatory response in their blood compared to those who had good dental health. Inflammation has increasingly been linked to heart disease and a variety of chronic health problems, including Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The findings “build on previous work that shows that chronic inflammatory conditions have a detrimental effect on disease progression in people with Alzheimer’s disease,” said study author Clive Holmes of the University of Southampton. He notes that his study was small and that additional trials in larger numbers of people should be conducted to confirm the results.

The findings are consistent with earlier studies that suggest that poor dental health and gum disease may be linked to inflammation and cognitive decline. In an earlier study of twins from Sweden, for example, researchers found that a twin who had developed severe gum disease and missing teeth before age 35 was four to five times more likely to develop dementia years later than one without dental disease. While the investigators cautioned that flossing the teeth will not prevent Alzheimer’s, they speculated that the chronic inflammation that causes gum and periodontal disease may, over time, play a role in damaging the brain possibly by exacerbating other symptoms or conditions. [See the alzinfo.org story, “Early Intervention May Help Ward Off Alzheimer’s” at https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/prevention-and-wellness-113/ ]

Gum disease is common in older people. It is especially prevalent in older people with Alzheimer’s disease, who often have trouble brushing their teeth and following other aspects of good oral hygiene.

Good oral care can be especially vexing in nursing homes and other facilities, where dental care is often overlooked and staff may be ill prepared to provide services. A 2006 study of five facilities in upstate New York, for example, found that only one in six residents received any oral care at all, and toothbrushes were in short supply.

By www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Mark Ide, Marina Harris, Annette Stevens, et al: “Periodontitis and Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer’s Disease.” PLOS One, March 10, 2016

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