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Poor periodontal health is associated with the risk of dementia

Poor periodontal health and tooth loss seem to increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, concludes a systematic review of 47 longitudinal studies. Carried out by researchers in dentistry and neurology at the University of Eastern Finland, the review was published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society.

As the ageing population increases, the disease burden caused by memory disorders is expected to surge. With no widely available disease modifying drugs, prevention of cognitive decline and dementia by targeting modifiable factors, such as lifestyle choices, is paramount. Promising results from interventions aimed at reducing the risk of cognitive decline, such as the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability, FINGER, emphasise the importance of targeting modifiable yet simple factors as well as the need for identifying new ones. One such novel factor is periodontal health, which has recently gained attention in the context of dementia prevention.

In the study, researchers investigated the association of periodontal health with cognitive decline and dementia through a comprehensive systematic review consisting of a meta-analysis and qualitative assessment of longitudinal studies. The researchers found that poor periodontal health (e.g., diseases of the gums) and tooth loss (often resulting from untreated gum diseases) increased the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

“A key observation is that poor periodontal health is a modifiable risk factor, which can be addressed through simple steps such as self-care measures and regular use of basic oral health services which may lower the risk of cognitive decline and dementia to some extent. Furthermore, maintaining good periodontal health is especially important for people who already have some cognitive impairment, and they may need support both in accessing dental healthcare services and in oral home care,” says the first author of the review, Doctoral researcher Sam Asher.

However, the overall quality of the available evidence is relatively low due to the methodological issues of the included studies. “This is perhaps not entirely surprising since several aspects of the periodontal health–cognition association remain to be ascertained.”

So far, the evidence is limited to ascertain the degree of risk reduction and provide more specific recommendations for early identification of at-risk individuals and oral health intervention strategies that would be most effective for dementia prevention. Overall, practicing adequate oral hygiene measures is paramount for maintaining good oral health, which may positively influence health and wellbeing in general.

For further information, please contact: Doctoral researcher Sam Asher, samash (a) uef.fi

Research article:

Asher, S, Stephen, R, Mäntylä, P, Suominen, AL, Solomon, A. Periodontal health, cognitive decline, and dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2022; 1- 15. doi:10.1111/jgs.17978