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Gum Disease Links Part 3: Dementia

August 10th, 2021

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It turns out that practicing sound oral hygiene is not just good for your dental health but your mental health, too. How? Good gum health may help delay dementia. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently published an analysis in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggesting that the bacteria that cause gum disease may also be associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.1

Learn more about how gum disease and dementia are linked. 

What is dementia?

According to the CDC, dementia is not a specific disease.2 It’s what happens when you develop an impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions, and therefore you struggle with everyday activities. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Where dementia is a more generalized term for the decline in mental abilities, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease caused by complex brain changes following cell damage.3 Some of the risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease include age, family history, and genetics.

Link Between Gum Disease and Dementia 

Bleeding gums, swollen gums, and tooth loss can occur in those who suffer from gum disease. JAMDA recently identified the associations between tooth loss and the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. Their study discovered that the risk of diminished cognitive function increased with the total number of teeth lost.4

Additionally, when people have gum disease, the bacteria and the inflammatory molecules in their mouths can travel through the bloodstream to the brain. In the NIA’s study, they found that beta-amyloid protein plaques, which are closely associated with Alzheimer’s, possibly develop in response to infections caused by P. gingivalis bacteria.5 This bacteria can cluster with others to further increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Tips to Prevent Gum Disease

While more research needs to be performed to determine whether gum disease causes Alzheimer’s or not, inflammation does play a significant role in linking the two together.6 Luckily, gum disease can be treated and prevented when you follow a proper oral healthcare routine. 

Here are eight tips on how to prevent gum disease:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush
  • Remove plaque twice each day using a soft wood pick or floss 
  • Use a gentle, SLS-free toothpaste with aloe vera
  • Rinse with an antigingivitis/antiplaque mouthwash after you brush
  • Reduce refined sugar and refined carb intake
  • Avoid foods that cause inflammation, such as refined carbohydrates, alcohol, processed meat, and artificial trans fat
  • Avoid smoking and tobacco products
  • Receive regular cleanings (every 6 months) from your dentist

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not standard parts of aging, but 6.2 million people aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. However, the CDC states that up to 40% of dementia cases may be prevented or delayed.7 To help lower your chances of developing dementia, make sure you keep up with your daily oral health routine.

Gum Disease is Linked to Various Health Problems

Unfortunately, dementia isn’t the only health issue that gum disease has been linked to. If left untreated, gum disease can lead to other health problems, including heart disease, COVID-19, cancer, and diabetes. Be aware of the signs of gum disease, like bleeding or swollen gums, and talk to your dentist if you have any concerns.

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