Dental Health Linked with Risk for Dementia

Taking care of our teeth and gums becomes more important as we age.  Not only to protect our natural teeth, and an attractive smile, but our dental health may also influence overall well-being and new research suggests it could also affect our risk for developing dementia. 

According to a recent Washington Post report, research has found a link between poor oral hygiene and heart disease, diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and even early death.  The World Health Organization reports that severe periodontal disease affects about 19 percent of people over the age of 15 – roughly 1 billion people globally.  

Although more research is needed, observational studies suggest that oral health may be a modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.   Scientists suggest that gum disease may be more common among people with cognitive decline because they have a more difficult time maintaining a proper oral health routine.   

But research has also found that bacteria that normally live in our mouth, could travel through the bloodstream to the brain.  In fighting off more severe gum disease, the immune system responds with chronic inflammation that can lead to tooth loss and potentially inflammation in other parts of the body including the brain. 

The Takeaway?

Taking good care of your oral hygiene and making regular dental appointments is vital for older adults to preserve their oral and overall health and well-being.  Caregivers for people with cognitive decline should also take care to assist with proper oral care if necessary and work with their dental society to find a professional who has experience working with people with dementia or with the elderly. 

Regular dental visits and gentle, daily care can help prevent infection, tooth loss, decay, and pain that can affect eating and digestion as well as overall health.  If a loved one with dementia is refusing food, the explanation may reside in the mouth where tooth infection or inflammation is causing pain.