Gum disease ‘raises the risk of dementia by up to 70%’: Findings could see regular dental care promoted as a way of warding off Alzheimer’s


Having gum disease could increase the risk of developing dementia by up to 70 per cent, according to new research. Results from a study of 28,000 people indicate that those who brush their teeth more are less likely to develop the disease. And experts said regular dental care may be promoted as a method of warding off Alzheimer’s – if a link is confirmed by further research.

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, occurs when a build-up of plaque causes swelling and infections. Researchers believe that inflammation caused by years of mouth problems could eventually damage the brain. Gum disease has already been linked to health problems such as heart disease and early cancer deaths. And other studies have indicated that dementia patients with gum disease tend to deteriorate at a faster rate. Now, a Taiwanese study claims that the condition could indicate a risk of dementia.

Researchers studied 9,300 patients who had recently been diagnosed with chronic periodontitis, a common gum disease. These patients were then compared with 18,700 other participants, who did not suffer from gum disease. After ten years, 115 of the participants with gum disease developed Alzheimer’s, compared with 208 without.

But the results, published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, showed those who suffered from gum disease for more than ten years were significantly more likely to develop dementia. Those participants with long-term gum disease were 70 per cent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s during their lifetimes. Chang-Kai Chen and colleagues from the Chung Shan Medical University in Taichung wrote: ‘This finding supports the notion that pro-inflammatory factors due to [gum disease] may slowly and progressively induce neurodegenerative changes that lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.’

But the authors added that further study was ‘required to verify this hypothesis’.

James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, told The Times: ‘Although at first it does not seem obvious that gum disease could be linked to brain health, it is plausible that an immune reaction triggered by the gum disease could make its way to the brain and contribute to the development of dementia.’ Mr Pickett stressed that it was difficult to separate the effects of illnesses such as diabetes and depression, which are linked to both conditions.

He added that while a 70 per cent increase sounds like a big risk, only about one in 100 people with gum disease went on to develop dementia. Matthew Norton, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, added: ‘While this study is interesting, we still don’t know whether gum disease is causing an increased risk, and can’t tell whether treating gum disease could be an effective way of reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Evidence suggests that the best way to maintain brain health as we get older is to not smoke, eat a healthy diet, only drink in moderation, stay mentally and physically active and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.

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