Dental Health Linked to Dementia Risk

  • It’s been known for years that poor dental health increases a person’s risk for heart disease. In the recent past, poor dental health has been mentioned as a possible risk for Alzheimer’s disease, as well.   Now, a large and lengthy study has confirmed a probable correlation between poor dental hygiene and dementia.


    The results of this study conducted by researchers at the University of California have shown that people who brush their teeth less than once a day were up to 65 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who brush daily. The study, led by Annlia Paganini-Hill and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, followed nearly 5,500 elderly people over an 18 year period.

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    According to the study, “inflammation stoked by gum disease-related bacteria is implicated in a host of conditions including heart disease, stroke and diabetes…Some studies have also found that people with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, have more gum disease-related bacteria in their brains than a person without Alzheimer's.”


    When the study began, all participants were free of dementia. After 18 years, the researchers followed up with the participants. They used interviews, medical records and in some cases death certificates to determine that 1,145 of the original group had been diagnosed with dementia.


    The study found that, for women, there was a 65-percent greater chance of dementia among those who brushed less than daily than in the general population. Among the men, the effect was less pronounced, however statistically the effect was so small the researchers concluded that it could have been due to chance.


    Another reason to watch for depression in elders?


    When people suffer from depression, many grow lax about personal hygiene. Often, due to loneliness, chronic pain or lack of stimulation, elders withdraw. A significant number of these elders may become clinically depressed. Even those who may not be considered clinically depressed can show signs of not wanting to “bother” with personal hygiene, especially if they lack socialization and feel that personal hygiene is done for the sake of others.


    If an elder goes too long without bathing, family members and friends will soon notice. However, the lack of dental hygiene may be harder to detect. After reading the results of this study, I mentally placed dental hygiene very high on the “to do” list for elders. If family members suspect that their loved one’s aren’t caring for their teeth properly and seeing their dentist, then it’s time to intervene. Dental hygiene has long been understood to be about more than fresh breath. Now, in addition to protection against other serious diseases, we have good evidence that proper dental care may be one way to protect our brain from dementia.


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    Sheriff, N. (2012, August 21) Dental health linked to dementia risk: study. Reuters. Retrieved from

Published On: September 15, 2012