Study links gum disease to dementia

New research, conducted by a team from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and published in Neurology, has found that gum disease is associated with double the risk of being diagnosed with dementia. The team, examined more than 4,500 adults who initially did not suffer from the memory deteriorating condition and, 18 years later, discovered that more than one in five of those with no teeth (23%) or severe gum disease (22%) had developed dementia. In comparison, only 14% of the participants with good oral health at the start of the study had developed dementia.

“We looked at people’s dental health over a 20-year period and found people with the most severe gum disease at the start of our study had about twice the risk for mild cognitive impairment or dementia by the end,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Ryan Demmer, epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. “The good news was people with minimal tooth loss and mild gum disease were no more likely to develop thinking problems or dementia than people with no dental problems.”

Dementia is a syndrome comprising various conditions that ultimately cause the ongoing loss of brain functionality, affecting a patient’s memory, thinking, behaviour, and motor skill. Dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK, a number that is expected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

To gain an understanding of just how dental health can affect the risk of dementia, the Minnesota team began by looking at more than 8,000 people, whose average age was 63 and who did not have dementia. The subjects underwent a full dental examination, measuring bleeding, gum recession and plaque, before being grouped by the severity and extent of their gum disease, and number of lost teeth. A follow-up was conducted an average of 18 years later on each patient to reassess their situation.

The results, which were published in Neurology, showed that, overall, almost one in five (19%) had developed dementia. Only 14% of those who had healthy gums and all of their teeth at the startof the experiment were diagnosed with dementia. For those with mild or severe gum disease, 18% and 22%, respectively, had developed it. The highest rate of 23% was from those with no teeth, including cases in which they had been replaced by implants.

Those with no teeth were therefore around twice as likely to develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment than those with healthy gums and all their teeth in tact. Those with intermediate or severe gum disease, but who still had some teeth, showed a 20% higher risk.

These results reportedly remained true when adjusting for other factors that can affect the risk of dementia, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.

“Good dental hygiene is a proven way to keep healthy teeth and gums throughout your lifetime,” said Dr Demmer. “Our study does not prove an unhealthy mouth causes dementia and only shows an association. Further study is needed to demonstrate the link between microbes in your mouth and dementia, and to understand if treatment for gum disease can prevent dementia.”

UK joins Gum Health Day 2020

“Say NO to bleeding gums” was the slogan for Gum Health Day 2020, celebrated on 12 May in the UK and around the world. Its goal was to raise awareness about bleeding gums and how they are usually a sign of gum disease and need urgent treatment at the dental practice – otherwise they may pose a risk to health.

Gingivitis, periodontitis, and peri-implantitis are chronic, inflammatory gum diseases that affect a significant number of adults in the UK and worldwide. Unfortunately, gum diseases are still poorly acknowledged, even though scientific evidence shows that they pose a threat, not only to our oral/dental health but also our general health. Gum disease is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, certain forms of cancer, pregnancy complications, erectile dysfunction, and other serious, chronic and/or systemic conditions. More than 40 countries have joined Gum Health Day 2020 – from Europe, the Americas, Africa, Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region.

This year, together with the kind support of GSK, producers of Corsodyl, the BSP planned to join forces with our Undergraduate Representatives from UK dental and hygiene therapy schools to promote the campaign in and around the UK dental schools. Due to Covid-19, the public events have now been postponed until later in the year.

The BSP seeks to raise public awareness of the importance of identifying bleeding gums as a sign of gum disease. This awareness initiative encourages people with bleeding gums to visit their dentist, hygienist or therapist for a dental examination, including periodontal screening. The BSP has made resources available to its 1,500+ members to share with their patients in practice, including information leaflets, powerful videos and images. We have also run a gum health lockdown challenge on our social media platforms, which has been a huge success in engaging the profession.

Last year, Gum Health Day was celebrated in 47 countries: 28 in Europe, 13 in Latin America, five in Asia, and one in Africa. Interest in Gum Health Day was so high that 12 national periodontal societies from outside the EFP decided to take part in this campaign. This year, the BSP joins this worldwide initiative again to raise awareness of the importance of gum health with the UK public.

“Gum Health Day 2020 is a major EFP initiative to get the public informed every year of the value of healthy gums for a healthy life,” explained Xavier Struillou, president of the
EFP. “Even if we are living exceptional, strange times worldwide with the Covid-19 pandemic, we should not forget the role of our gum health in our global health. Taking care
of our gums also applies in these days.”

“Gum Health Day 2020 aims to remind people that – even if still often overlooked – gum
health is a key factor for general health and wellbeing throughout life, and that gum disease is an important public-health issue as it is linked to very serious conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes,” added Andreas Stavropoulos, coordinator of Gum Health Day 2020.

Gum diseases are usually painless, so the most frequent sign of suffering them is bleeding gums. “Gums are not supposed to bleed without reason,” noted Prof Stavropoulos. “If your gums bleed when you brush your teeth or when you bite on food, for example an apple, go and visit your dentist for a periodontal check-up as soon as possible.”

New research finds link between gum disease and erectile dysfunction

More time in the bathroom could lead to extra hours in the bedroom:

Don’t go soft on your oral health routine – that’s the message from the Oral Health Foundation after new research finds a link between gum disease and erectile dysfunction.

The study, published in the Journal of Periodontology, reveals that men with severe gum disease are more than twice as likely to suffer from impotence compared to those with healthy teeth and gums.1

The first study of its kind that involved a European population examined more than 150 men, and researchers were able to determine that three in four (74 per cent) with erectile dysfunction also had poor oral health.

In response to the findings, the Oral Health Foundation wants to emphasise the links between advancing gum disease and issues in other parts of the body and believes the benefits of taking better care of your gums can go far beyond a healthy mouth.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, said: “As startling as these findings may be, it may turn out to be a wake-up call for men to start paying greater attention to their oral health, particularly their gums.

“In recent years, gum disease has been linked with conditions like diabetes, stroke and heart disease but an increased risk of coming up short in the bedroom may be the final straw for men who might have been reluctant to spend a little extra time looking after their gums.”

Gum disease happens when the tissues supporting the teeth swell and become sore or infected. If you fail to treat it in it’s early stages, the disease will continue to worsen, and can result in tooth loss.

Finding blood on your toothbrush or in the toothpaste you spit out after brushing is a common symptom of the condition. Your gums may also bleed when you eat, leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

“Fortunately, gum disease is an entirely preventable and treatable disease but avoiding it and lowering the risk of poor performance in the bedroom requires an effective and consistent oral health routine,” Dr Carter added.

“Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, cleaning in between your teeth once a day using interdental brushes and maintaining regular visits to the dentist are the best way to avoid or treat gum disease.

“It takes a relatively small amount of time to give your teeth and gums the care they need and falling short of that can really leave you in a difficult position later in the day.”

The research also says that treating gum disease by reducing inflammation of the gums can result in improved erectile function.

As well as being able to treat any signs of gum disease before it develops into a more serious issue, regular dental visits can also remove plaque and tartar from your teeth, as well as give your mouth a fresh bill of health.

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  1. Martin A, Bravo M, Arrabal M et al. (2018) Chronic periodontitis is associated with erectile dysfunction. A case-control study in European population. Wiley: Journal of Clinical Periodontology. 2018;45:791-798.

How your favourite tipple could be changing the bacteria in your mouth… and it’s not good news

Just one alcoholic drink a day changes the balance of bacteria in the mouth and can lead to a range of diseases from tooth decay to cancer, a new study has revealed.

Researchers looking at the effects of alcohol on oral health discovered drinking habits influence the types of bacteria that reside in the mouth, with higher numbers of so-called ‘bad bacteria’ found in those who consume alcohol daily.

Scientists tested saliva samples from more than 1,000 adults and found that, compared to non-drinkers, those who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day saw a reduction of healthy bacteria in the mouth, with a significant increase of harmful bacteria also detected.

Such changes could contribute to alcohol-related diseases such as gum disease, tooth decay, head and neck cancer, and digestive tract cancers.

The Oral Health Foundation wants to raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol and the impact that regular consumption can have on the mouth and overall health.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, said: “There are hundreds of different types of bacteria in the mouth and they all play a highly significant role in a person’s wellbeing. These bacteria are finely balanced and important for maintaining everything from the immune system and how the body deals with pollution in the environment, to protecting the teeth and gums and aiding with digestion after eating and drinking.

“The bacterial imbalance from drinking alcohol can cause serious problems in the mouth, such as gum disease, as well as increase the risk of head and neck cancer and heart disease.”

The study also found the type of alcohol consumed also affects the type bacteria in the mouth, with researchers testing wine, beers and spirits.

They found that wine drinkers produce more bacteria responsible for gum disease when compared to non-drinkers while those who consume beer produce an increase in bacteria that are linked to dental decay.

Researchers were able to show that alcohol consumption is associated with decreased abundance of Lactobacillales, a bacterium beneficial to oral health by reducing the risk of tooth decay. They also found that alcohol suppresses the growth of pathogens that can help reduce gum inflammation.

“A number of high profile studies have previously pointed to the dangers around drinking alcohol to excess but this research offers an additional cause for concern,” added Dr Carter.

“It is therefore important to be aware of the effects that even moderate alcohol consumption can have on oral and overall health, if drinking is sustained over a prolonged period of time.

“The best way for somebody to protect themselves from alcohol-related disease is to drink moderately, both in volume and frequency.

“It is also especially important that before bed, teeth are brushed correctly after drinking alcohol. Don’t allow the bad bacteria to build up overnight.

“By giving the mouth a good clean last thing at night, bacteria in the saliva can be neutralised and help prevent any unwanted oral health or general health problems.”