Poor Dental Health Associated With Dementia

Dentistry Today


A history of chronic dental health issues increases the odds of dementia, according to a collaborative study between researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital and the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Recent studies suggest that damage to the brain results from local inflammatory cells defending the brain against a recurrent though low-level microbial assault. This hypothesis suggests that any process that helps maintain an infectious reservoir such as chronic oral, lung, or gastrointestinal illness, promote the access of resident microorganisms to the brain, or compromise the brain’s ability to exclude microbes from entry would increase the odds associated with acquiring dementia.

One corollary within this hypothesis suggests that the microorganisms that populate the mouth have a privileged route of access to the brain by traveling backward along the short nerves between the brain and mouth. 

The current study examined the association between oral health and dementia using more than 200,000 new dementia cases identified in the National Insurance Database for the entire population of Taiwan. There were more women affected than men, which appeared to result from their greater representation in the aging population.

Factors that alter perfusion or oxygenation of the brain like stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and pneumonia increased the odds of dementia. Records from the prior 10 years also indicated that dental procedures that quickly restored homeostasis lowered the odds of dementia, and a history of chronic dental problems raised the odds of dementia. 

“Prevention and delay are key goals in the approach to dementia. Good dental care and perhaps simple daily dental hygiene with regular brushing and rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash may be a productive intervention, especially among populations already having increasing difficulty performing their own routine daily care,” said Dr. J.L. Caffrey of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

“Second, the impressive analytical power of this broad database strongly suggests that a coalition is needed among patients, the medical/dental establishment, and major cloud-based enterprises to create an even better worldwide resource database to allow the research community to efficiently examine a wide spectrum of current and future public health issues with a never before realized confidence and precision,” said Caffrey.

“Caffrey and colleagues have utilized the Taiwan National Insurance database to study associations with dementia. They demonstrate an association between good dental health and decreased occurrence of dementia,” said Dr. Steven R. Goodman, editor in chief of Experimental Biology & Medicine, which published the study.

“These results, while not demonstrating causation, suggest that an important prevention procedure could be steps as simple as daily use of an antimicrobial mouthwash and seeing dentists on a regular schedule,” said Goodman.

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