Saturday Kitchen Live: Ed Balls discusses his mother's dementia
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Publishing their research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the researchers from the University of Eastern Finland say that oral health can have an impact on neurological health.
They concluded: “Poor periodontal health and tooth loss appear to increase the risk of both cognitive decline and dementia.” The type of periodontal health they focus on specifically is gum disease.
According to their results, gum disease patients are 23 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who don’t. Their results were based on pooled data from 47 studies which had looked into the link between cognitive decline and oral health.
The type of gum disease the research focused on is a condition known as periodontitis, a gum infection which damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone which supports the tooth.
The impact of other forms of gum disease on dementia was addressed to a lesser degree by the study, one which brings focus to the importance of oral health on overall health.
In their conclusion, the authors wrote: “From a clinical perspective, our findings emphasiSe the importance of monitoring and management of periodontal health in the context of dementia prevention.”
They added: “Given the impact of cognitive deterioration on periodontal health, oral health professionals are well-placed to track and intervene in early changes in periodontal health and oral self-care, but only if dental healthcare services are sustained over time and adequate oral health support is provided in the home setting when deterioration in self-care is identified.”
While the findings from the study may cause some to reconsider their oral health, there were some limitations to the study.
The authors admitted that the “overall quality of evidence was low, and several areas of periodontal-cognitive health interplay remain to be investigated” and “the available evidence is not yet sufficient to point out clear ways for early identification of at-risk individuals”.
Furthermore, the study was of an observational, not causational nature. This means it can only observe a potential link between two entities rather than definitively say there is one as is the case with a causational study.
As a result, the evidence is not strong enough to pinpoint a direct link between gum disease and an increased risk of dementia; however, this does not mean serious thought should not be given when considering oral health.
This is a fact reflected in another study which considered the link between Alzheimer’s disease and gum disease published in July.
Published in the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience journal, the research was undertaken by Tufts University in the United States which investigated the impact of f. nucleatum bacteria on neurological health.
F. nucleatum is a type of bacteria which proliferates in periodontitis and has previously been linked to other conditions such as bowel cancer and the premature arrival of babies. The study by Tufts University found that F. nucleatum can worsen symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Speaking about the research, Professor Jake Chen said: “Our lab is the first to find that Fusobacterium nucleatum can generate systemic inflammation and even infiltrate nervous system tissues and exacerbate the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Professor Chen’s findings were reached after analysis of the impact of the bacteria on mice; it was during these tests that Chen said they found “that F. nucleatum can reduce the memory and thinking skills in mice through certain signal pathways”.
While the paper does not suggest F. nucleatum can cause Alzheimer’s, it does suggest that it can worsen symptoms of the condition in patients. Chen added: “Testing for bacterial load and degree of symptoms could one day become a way to measure the effects of F. nucleatum and manage treatment to slow progression of both periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s.”
Furthermore, it is believed that the research could suggest potential drug targets for those developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s that target the bacteria and thus alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease.
While this is a positive development, it is one which will not have ramifications for years to come, the next step is to move into human trials and for causational studies to be conducted in order confirm the link.
Meanwhile, symptoms of gum disease to spot include:
- Gums bleeding when brushing your teeth, floss, or eat hard food
- Gums becoming red, swollen, and sore.
Until then, research and the fight against dementia and its sub-variants continues as researchers look for new ways to defeat a disease which devastates the lives of so many every year.
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