Severe gum disease and tooth loss may be linked to an increased risk for developing dementia, a new study has found.
Researchers looked at 8,275 men and women whose average age was 63 at the start of the study. Over an average follow-up of more than 18 years, 19 percent of them developed Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
After controlling for various characteristics, including age, sex, education, cholesterol, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, smoking and body mass index, they found that compared with people with healthy gums, those who had severe gingivitis with tooth loss had a 22 percent increased relative risk for dementia. Being toothless was associated with a 26 percent increased risk. The report is in the journal Neurology.
Previous studies have shown that bacteria present in periodontal disease, particularly certain spirochetes, can travel along the trigeminal nerve that connects the mucous membranes of the mouth to the brain, potentially causing brain damage. The researchers also suggest that the connection could be more indirect, with the inflammation of gum disease leading to cardiovascular disease or diabetes, which are known risk factors for dementia.
“We haven’t proven causation,” said the lead author, Ryan T. Demmer, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. “But if it is causal, the population impact could be significant. Half the population has periodontal disease severe enough to put them at higher risk.”