New Study Shows Link Between Dental Hygiene and Alzheimer’s

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While there is no proven cure for Alzheimer’s yet, there are a few small things people with the disease (or people concerned about getting the disease) can be doing to stay healthy.

Two of those things will only take you a few minutes a day. And they are — drumroll please — brushing and flossing.

How could unhealthy teeth affect my brain, you ask? While nothing is really known for sure at this time, it is believed that periodontitis is the main culprit. Periodontitis is severe inflammation of the gums and can be prevented with a simple daily oral hygiene routine that includes brushing and flossing. Periodontitis affects about half of people over age 30, and that number only increases with age. About 70 percent of people over age 65 have periodontal disease. The inflammation associated with periodontitis appears to cause an inflammatory reaction in the brain that triggers or worsens Alzheimer’s.

Senior man brushing his teeth

The University of Southampton and King’s College London recently worked together on a study on 59 people with dementia in the U.K. Their findings were published in the journal PLOS One.

At the beginning of the study, a dental hygienist evaluated the oral health of each participant. The patients were also cognitively assessed and had blood drawn to test for inflammatory markers. At the end of the study, six months later, 52 of the subjects were evaluated a second time.

Those who were found to have periodontitis — a severe inflammatory disease affecting the gums — experienced on average six times more mental decline than those who began the study with healthy mouths.

“In just six months you could see the patients going downhill,” said Dr. Mark Ide, a dentist from King’s College London. “It’s really quite scary.”

The study was too small to be very conclusive, and it isn’t yet clear whether the gum disease causes the mental decline at all. However, it may be better to be safe than to be sorry. Professor Clive Holmes, a senior author at the University of Southampton, says:

“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.”

While we await further studies with more participants and clearer results, it never hurts to be on the safe side. Be sure to brush and floss regularly and visit your dentist for a cleaning every six months.

If you’re a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s who doesn’t remember or care to floss and brush, consider asking your dental hygienist for tips on how to take care of someone else’s teeth.

What do you think about flossing and brushing as a treatment for Alzheimer’s? Share your stories in the comments below.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?