Over 8,000 people were involved, each with an average age of 63 at the start of the study. Multiple steps were taken to prepare them for the long-term research.
A research study was being undertaken in an effort to understand if there is a link between early-stage periodontal disease and either dementia or Alzheimer’s, up to 20 years after the start. The study found patterns that would suggest that there could be some connection between poor oral health and chronic mental diseases at a later age in the patient’s life.
The study, however, could not determine whether chronic mental conditions at a later date were directly attributed to early-stage gum disease 20 years prior. Only that there seems to be a pattern over time that would suggest there is some connection. More study is still required to learn how the bacteria in the mouth and inflammation attributed to periodontal disease could affect long-term cognitive abilities.
According to the study Author Ryan T. Demmer, a Ph.D. and M.P.H. at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis stated that, “The study looked at people’s dental health over a 20-year period and found that people with the most severe gum disease at the start of our study had about twice the risk for mild cognitive impairment or dementia by the end,”.
The Author continued to state, “However, good news was that people with minimal tooth loss and mild gum disease were no more likely to develop thinking problems or dementia than people with no dental problems.”
What are the Significant Factors?
Over 8,000 people were involved, each with an average age of 63 at the start of the study. Multiple steps were taken to prepare them for the long-term research. A comprehensive dental exam was administered, which included but not limited to measuring gum probing depth and examining the extent of periodontal disease such as bleeding and gum recession. According to the study and public reporting, the researchers also conducted assessments for cognitive impairment and dementia.
You can find more details on this research study here, however, in this article we are going to focus on both ends of the research spectrum. On one end, the participants with healthy teeth and gums at the start of the study ended up with a 14% chance or possibility that they would develop Alzheimer’s or Dementia. On the other end of this study, the participants with severe gum disease and no teeth at all had a 45% chance of developing Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
For those with gum disease or no teeth at all during the start of the study, the numbers were as high as 16.9 cases of Alzheimer’s or dementia for every 1,000 people. While participants with mild periodontal disease were only at a 20% risk of developing these mind debilitating diseases, the numbers are far more dangerous for those without proper dental care.
Keep in mind that the study didn’t find a direct connection to periodontal disease, it merely showed that over time, there does seem to be a progressive connection between the two.
More Research is Needed on Long-Term Bacterial Effects
According to Ryan Demmer, the balance of bacteria in the mouth changes over time and as one gets older, the balance of good bacteria diminishes. This provides bad bacteria an opportunity to thrive in a more robust manner. This can in turn help propagate poor oral health and inflammation attributed to gum disease. However, the way the bacteria causes this over time or if this is even the right process is still yet to be determined.
A comprehensive 20-year study is still necessary and should pay more attention to data derived from bacterial development and its effect on critical cognitive impairment. How the bacteria or inflammation interacts with the development of Alzheimer’s or Dementia is important. As well as what steps and technological advancements can be used to address the problem for millions of Americans and individuals across the world.
What this Means for the Significance of your Oral Hygiene
It goes without saying that if further studies can prove a direct connection between periodontal disease and long-term chronic mental diseases, then your oral health just took a leap in importance. Maintaining good oral health over your lifetime should be at the top of everyone’s list. The mundane task of brushing, flossing and rinsing at least twice per day is a small sacrifice to pay for a healthy mind and a healthy life.
Similarly, visiting your dentist at least twice per year for regular dental checkups is imperative. It is those visits you go to that will help prevent larger problems from arising. It will allow you and your dentist to exercise preventative treatment in a manner consistent with comprehensive dental treatment. If you haven’t been to a dentist in a while, allocate some time this week, to make that one of your essential goals before the end of this year and beyond.