Alzheimer’s disease currently ranks as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., with one out of every three seniors suffering from the disease or some form of dementia at the time of their death, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. While nearly five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, researchers project that total to increase in the near future.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is expected to rise to an estimated 30 million in the U.S. by the year 2030. Considering the immense personal and financial toll the disease takes on the lives those it affects and their loved ones, gaining a better understanding of the causes of dementia ranks as one of the leading public health questions heading into the future.
While researchers still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s, they do know several of the risk factors for the disease, including age, family history, and genetic predisposition. Now a new study may have uncovered one more potential risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s – an individual’s oral health.
According to researchers at the Univeristy of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, middle-aged individual’s suffering from bleeding gums and tooth loss may have a higher risk of developing a decline in their thinking skills as they age.
Researchers began their study to determine whether patients suffering from poor oral health had a disproportionately higher number of problems with cognitive function, a term used to describe how well individuals manage with numbers, words, and memory. Researchers discovered that for every additional tooth patients had lost or removed, they exhibited additional decline in cognitive function.
For example, study participants who had no teeth exhibited less cognitive function when compared to those who had teeth remaining, and participants who had few remaining teeth had less cognition than those with more teeth.
This correlation remained true when researchers examined patients suffering from gum disease, as well.
The results of this latest study were published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
The Oral and Mental Connection
To determine what effects a patient’s oral health may have on his or her cognitive abilities, researchers examined data gathered on 6,000 men and women between the ages of 45 to 64 that included tests on thinking and memory skills, in addition to detailed examinations of each participants oral health.
Approximately 13 percent of study participants had no remaining natural teeth. Of those who still had remaining teeth, one-fifth had 20 or fewer teeth remaining – the average adult has 32 teeth, including wisdom teeth – and over 12 percent suffered from deep pockets along their gum line and frequent bleeding gums – both known signs of gum disease.
Researchers discovered that scores on thinking and memory tests – including word fluency, ability to work with numbers, and word recall – were all lower in every instance among participants with no teeth when compared to those with teeth remaining.
Researchers also uncovered an association between having fewer teeth and problems with bleeding gums with the lowest test scores when compared to the scores of participants with more teeth and healthier gums.
While the connection between an individual’s oral health and cognitive decline remains unknown, researchers have several theories.
Researchers hypothesize that individuals suffering from poor oral health also have poor diets that lack an abundance of so-called “brain foods” that provide the body with the antioxidants it needs to maintain cognitive functioning. Researchers also suspect that oral disease such as gum disease helps to promote inflammation throughout the body’s circulatory system, ultimately causing a negative impact on cognition.
While more research is needed into this field of study, the early conclusions drawn by this study do help to further raise the importance of practicing quality oral hygiene.
The Importance of Improved Oral Hygiene
This latest study continues to reinforce what an overwhelming amount of recent research has started to suggest- the state on an individual’s oral health plays a major role in determining their overall health. In addition to dementia, recent studies have shown strong links between an individual’s oral health and an increased link to such chronic diseases as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer.
While genetics can play a role in determining an individual’s oral health, how well they maintain their oral hygiene plays the largest contributing factor for the risk of developing gum disease and tooth decay. To ensure the healthiest teeth and gums possible, the American Dental Association recommends children and adults brush twice a day for at least two minutes at a time, while also flossing daily. The ADA also strongly recommends scheduling regular dental checkups and cleanings twice a year, as well.
Considering the data researchers have started to uncover, the time someone spends brushing their teeth each day could save their life in the end.
Please contact Feldmanis Family Dentistry, your dentist in Eugene, OR, for an appointment today