People with dementia and gum disease declined six times faster than those with healthy teeth over a six month study Brushing your teeth regularly could slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease after scientists found that gum disease speeds up mental decline by six times. Periodontitis, or gum disease, is common in older people and can get worse in old age as people struggle to maintain their oral hygiene. It is thought that periodontal bacteria increase levels of inflammation in the body, which has been linked to greater mental decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease. A new study by King's College London and the University of Southampton followed 59 people with mild to moderate dementia for six months, monitoring the state of their gums.
"If there is a direct relationship between periodontitis and cognitive decline, as this current study suggests, then treatment of gum disease might be a possible treatment option for Alzheimer’s”
Professor Clive Holmes, University of Southampton Those who had gum disease at the beginning to the study declined six times faster than those with healthy teeth. Gum disease can be controlled through regular brushing and mouthwash treatments, and researchers say keeping up with dental health could be an easy way of lessoning the impact of Alzheimer’s Professor Clive Holmes, senior author from the University of Southampton, said: “These are very interesting results which build on previous work we have done that shows that chronic inflammatory conditions have a detrimental effect on disease progression in people with Alzheimer’s disease. “Our study was small and lasted for six months so further trials need to be carried out to develop these results.
“However, if there is a direct relationship between periodontitis and cognitive decline, as this current study suggests, then treatment of gum disease might be a possible treatment option for Alzheimer’s.” Simply looking after dental health could vastly improve Alzheimer's progression Photo: ALAMY
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The research follows calls earlier this week for more research to be carried out into whether bacteria and viruses are triggering Alzhimer’s. A group of 31 experts from around the world suggested that the condition could be caused by the herpes virus or chlamydia. The experts from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Imperial College London say that viral and bacterial infections in the brain often show similar symptoms as those of Alzhimer’s.
There are currently 850,000 people living with dementia in Britain which is due to rise to one million by 2025 and two million by 2050. Although there have been hundreds of drug trials in the last 15 years, none have been shown to prevent the stickly amyloid plaques and misfolded proteins which stop brain cells working. Growing evidence from a number of studies links the body’s inflammatory response to increased rates of cognitive decline so targeting the cause of inflammation could prevent the disease taking hold. Gum disease is widespread in the UK and in older age groups is thought to be a major cause of tooth loss.
In the UK in 2009, around 80 per cent of adults over 55 had evidence of gum disease. 40 per cent of adults aged over 65-74 had less than 21 of their original 32 teeth, with half of them reporting gum disease before they lost teeth.
“A number of studies have shown that having few teeth, possibly as a consequence of earlier gum disease, is associated with a greater risk of developing dementia,” said Dr Mark Ide, first author from the Dental Institute at King’s College London.
“We also believe, based on various research findings, that the presence of teeth with active gum disease results in higher body-wide levels of the sorts of inflammatory molecules which have also been associated with an elevated risk of other outcomes such as cognitive decline or cardiovascular disease.
“Research has suggested that effective gum treatment can reduce the levels of these molecules closer to that seen in a healthy state.
“Previous studies have also shown that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease have poorer dental health than others of similar age and that the more severe the dementia the worse the dental health, most likely reflecting greater difficulties with taking care of oneself as dementia becomes more severe.” Alzheimer's patients declined six times faster if they had gum disease.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said: “This small study suggests that people who have both Alzheimer’s and gum disease declined in memory and thinking more quickly than those who had better dental health. It’s unclear however, whether this is cause or effect - if the gum disease is triggering the faster decline of dementia, or vice versa. “This study adds evidence to the idea that gum disease could potentially be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s, but we would need to see clinical trials to provide more solid evidence. If this is proven to be the case, better dental hygiene would offer a relatively straightforward way to help slow the progression of dementia and enable people to remain independent for longer.
“We know as dementia progresses, a person may lose the ability to clean their teeth, stop understanding that their teeth need to be kept clean, or lose interest in doing so. If this does happen then carers may need to help with this task - a dentist or hygienist can provide guidance and support on how to assist in cleaning another person's teeth.” The research was published in the journal PLOS One
By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor