Can a healthy smile prevent dementia?

The World Health Organization reports that there are 7.7 million new cases of dementia every year and projects that the number of people with dementia will nearly double every 20 years (WHO Dementia Fact Sheet).

One of the most frustrating things about dementia and related diseases like Alzheimer’s is that there is no known cause. Likewise, doctors have no effective treatment or cure for these progressive conditions. As men and women enjoy longer lives, the thought of developing dementia can be a very real and scary possibility.

Doctors and researchers have found evidence to support that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of dementia and promote overall health and well-being. Patients are encouraged to have a healthy diet, exercise and quit smoking. Recent studies suggest it might be wise to add brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist regularly to this list.

Philadelphia dentist Pamela G. Doray encourages all of her patients to aware of the importance of their dental health. We already know that gum disease is linked to diabetes, heart disease and other health conditions, but researchers in the UK have found gum disease may also be linked to dementia.

In July, researchers from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, UK released the findings of a study that established a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The Oral & Dental Sciences Research Group compared brain tissue from ten Alzheimer’s patients to ten healthy patients of similar age with no signs of dementia.

In four of the ten Alzheimer’s patients, scientists found Porphyromonas gingivalis, an organism that is highly prevalent in patients with chronic gum disease. The healthy patients had no signs of the bacteria.

“This new research indicates a possible association between gum disease and individuals who may be susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease, if exposed to the appropriate trigger!” said Professor Stjohn Crean, Dean of UClan School of Medicine and Dentistry. “It remains to be proven whether poor dental hygiene can lead to dementia in healthy people…It is also likely that these bacteria could make the existing disease condition worse.”

For Dr. Doray, this study underscores her belief that a healthy mouth is critical to a healthy body. Maintaining healthy gums and teeth can prevent a build-up of bacteria, reducing the  amount of bacteria entering the blood stream and circulating through the body.

The important steps to achieve optimal periodontal health are brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Dr. Doray also encourages patients to have a healthy diet, limit sodas and other sweets and drink plenty of water. Chewing sugar-free gum between meals can increase saliva which will help to wash away bacteria.

Patients are encouraged to visit the dentist at least twice a year for a periodontal screening and routine examination. Even those who have the most diligent at home care routine are susceptible to gum disease. The dentist can often intercept problems in their earliest stage and prevent the progression of gum disease and possibly other serious health problems.