A recent study has shown that dental health and Alzheimer’s could be linked in multiple ways. Patients with Alzheimer’s were shown to have higher incidents of gum inflammation than other older adults. This could stem from two causes. The first possibility is the inflammation in the gums spreads to the blood stream and has an effect on the brain and could contribute to Alzheimer’s, brain inflammation and neurodegeneration. The other possibility is that the Alzheimer’s or other cognitive problems affects the elderly population’s ability to continue to do tasks that they had been able to do before, like brushing their teeth. This in turn could cause the gum disease and inflammation because of the lack of care of that patient’s mouth.
A dental health and Alzheimer’s link also shows that Alzheimer’s patients have higher incidents of tooth loss and dry mouth than other elderly adults. Dry mouth is a concern for older adults, especially those that wear dentures because it can irritate the gums under and around the dentures. This can damage the mouth and can also cause an infection that could possibly spread to other parts of the body. Another recent study revealed that Alzheimer’s patients lost more teeth than other elderly dental patients. The study also found that patients with dementia had poor dental health overall. No research has shown if the dental problems are a warning sign of Alzheimer’s or if previous poor dental care started the problems that were only made worse because they were not able to continue caring for their teeth.
Because dental health and Alzheimer’s could be linked, proper dental care in the later stages of life can help relieve some of the pain and discomfort that comes from the dental issues. If the elderly patient is no longer able to care for their own teeth through brushing and flossing, then they should receive assistance from a family member or care giver. Their care giver or health care provider should also monitor the condition inside their mouths to check for any changes in condition.
Dr. Hazim is a member of the American Dental Association and the Texas Dental Association. A graduate of Loyola University, Dr. Hazim has undergone continuing education at the Pankey Institute and has received accreditation from the Western Regional Examining Board.