Gum Disease May Play a Role in Alzheimer's

New York — A new study by researchers at the NYU College of Dentistry finds that gum disease may increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease.

It's the first long-term evidence that gum disease may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction associated with Alzheimer's disease in healthy individuals as well as in those who already are cognitively impaired.

The study was led by NYU's Dr. Angela Kamer, who collaborated with a team of researchers from Denmark, and expands on a 2008 study by Dr. Kamer which "found that subjects with Alzheimer's disease had a significantly higher level of antibodies and inflammatory molecules associated with periodontal disease in their plasma compared to healthy people."

In the new study, researchers analyzed data on periodontal inflammation and cognitive function in 152 Danish men and women who were part of the Glostrop Aging Study, which gathered medical, psychological, oral health and social data from 1964-84.

The team compared cognitive function of the subjects at ages 50 and 70, using the Digit Symbol Test, or DST, a part of the standard measurement of adult IQ that assesses how quickly subjects can link a series of digits, such as 2, 3, 4, to a corresponding list of digit-symbol pairs.

They found that periodontal inflammation at age 70 was strongly associated with lower DST scores at age 70 and that subjects with periodontal inflammation were nine times more likely to test in the lower range of the DST compared to subjects with little or no periodontal inflammation.

This strong association held true even in those subjects who had other risk factors linked to lower DST scores, including obesity, cigarette smoking, and tooth loss unrelated to gum inflammation. The strong association also held true in those subjects who already had a low DST score at age 50.

"The research suggests that cognitively normal subjects with periodontal inflammation are at an increased risk of lower cognitive function compared to cognitively normal subjects with little or no periodontal iflammation," said Dr. Kamer.

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Common Conditions For ADULTS 55+

  • Gum disease
    This potentially serious condition occurs when the gum tissues surrounding teeth become infected because of a buildup of plaque on the teeth and gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and is recognizable by swollen, red or bleeding gums. Gum disease is a concern for older adults for a number of reasons, including plaque building up on teeth and gums from not developing proper oral health care habits earlier in life.

  • Tooth or root decay
    Even at 55-plus years, adults can still develop tooth or root decay if gum recession has occurred. It is important for older adults to effectively clean the gums, the teeth and exposed root surfaces to remove dental plaque and food debris.

  • Sensitive teeth
    At some point, we've all tossed back a nice, cold glass of water only to grimace at that sharp, tingling sensation in our teeth. A number of factors cause tooth sensitivity, including brushing too aggressively with a hard-bristled toothbrush, worn tooth enamel, and a cracked or fractured tooth.