Cognitive functioning and dementia can dramatically affect the conditions for oral health, according to researcher Helena Nilsson of Malmö University in Malmö, Sweden, who recently participated in a global study on aging.
“Periodontitis is as clear a risk factor as cardiovascular disease or consuming large quantities of alcohol,” said Nilsson, whose research includes a Swedish study on aging and elderly care designed to identify the medical, psychological, and social factors that favor healthy aging.
Nilsson has investigated whether tooth loss and periodontitis are related to cognitive impairment, which may be indicative of incipient dementia, in a study comprising clinical and radiological examinations of 1,147 patients. She used the same cognitive test instruments that are used when evaluating individuals at risk for dementia.
“I wanted to see if periodontitis could predict a cognitive impairment in people who were initially characterized as cognitively healthy. Which factors can predict that such a deterioration will occur?” said Nilsson.
The individuals were followed for six years. Even with regard to risk factors such as high age and low educational level, periodontitis was found to have a significant impact on the risk for cognitive impairment.
The link between periodontitis and dementia may come from the individuals’ inability to take care of their dental health, Nilsson said. Other hypotheses include a potential relationship based on common inflammatory factors or impaired chewing functionality.
In one of her studies, Nilsson conducted a 12-year follow-up among the elderly showing that periodontitis increases the risk of loss of several teeth. Her findings point to the importance of diagnosing and treating periodontitis even among the elderly.
“It is important that dental care maintains contact with older patients,” said Nilsson.