Gum Disease and Dementia

If you’re over 30, chances are you’ve got gum disease. A new study published in the August 30, 2012 issue of the Journal of Dental Research apparently confirms the gloomy news: based on data from a nationally representative sample, 47 percent of the U.S. population has gum disease. The investigation reported that about 9 percent of Americans have mild gum disease, 30 percent have moderate disease and 8.5 percent have severe disease. Gum disease isn’t just a sign of poor dental health; it can also be an indicator of cardiovascular disease. (Although the American Heart Association states that no conclusive data demonstrates that gum disease actually causes or increases the risk of heart disease and stroke). In addition, new research published in the August 2012 edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows an association between how often you brush your teeth and the risk of dementia in old age. The investigators followed nearly 5,500 seniors for 18 years and found that those who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were up to 65 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed daily. The lead investigator suggested that the bacteria that cause gum disease may affect the central nervous system and cause inflammation and damage leading to dementia.

 

My take? These are interesting findings, but at this point we can only say that researchers have found an association between oral hygiene and dementia, not a cause and effect. Dental health is one of the keys to good health, but it is clearly far from the only key. Low-grade, persistent infections in the oral cavity and elsewhere can burden the immune system and weaken overall health. Teeth and gums are not separate from the rest of the body, and dentistry should not be so separate from general medicine. Taking care of your teeth and gums is vital. Be sure to brush and floss daily and see your dentist regularly so that any problems can be detected and corrected.

Filed Under: FeaturedHealth

About the Author: Andrew Weil, M.D., is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, a healing oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit. Combining a Harvard education and a lifetime of practicing natural and preventive medicine, Dr. Weil is the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AzCIM) at the University of Arizona.