Gum Disease Linked to Worsening Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer’s Patients

A new study jointly led by the University of Southampton and King’s College London, 2016 has found a link between gum disease and greater rates of cognitive decline in people with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The team of researchers enrolled 59 participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease to their study, and 52 of these participants were followed for an average of six months.

At the beginning and end of the follow-up period, a dental hygienist assessed the dental health of the subjects, and the researchers took blood samples from the participants and assessed them for inflammatory markers. Subjects also underwent cognitive tests at study baseline and after six months.

Compared with participants who did not have gum disease at study baseline, those who did were found to have a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline during the six-month follow-up period.

What is more, subjects who had gum disease at study baseline showed an increase in blood levels of pro-inflammatory markers over the follow-up period. Based on their findings – and those of previous research – the team suggests that gum disease may increase the rate of cognitive decline by increasing the body’s inflammatory response.

“We also believe, based on various research findings that the presence of teeth with active gum disease results in higher body-wide levels of the sorts of inflammatory molecules, which have also been associated with an elevated risk of other outcomes such as cognitive decline or cardiovascular disease.

Research has suggested that effective gum treatment can reduce the levels of these molecules closer to that seen in a healthy state.” says Dr. Ide, first study author.

The researchers recognise that the small number of participants in their study is a limitation, and they recommend that the association between gum disease and cognitive decline is investigated in a larger cohort. Further studies, they say, should also seek to determine the exact mechanisms by which gum disease drives cognitive decline.