Recent studies have illustrated a surprising, and alarming, link between oral health and Alzheimer’s and dementia. The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and New York University have both released the results of long-term studies that prove poor oral health may have an impact on people suffering from these progressive cognitive diseases.
The UCLan study took 10 samples from patients whose brains had been affected by dementia and 10 samples from brains that were not affected by the disease. The examination found traces of the Porphyromonas gingivalis germ in the samples of the effected brains.
This germ is closely liked with persistent, ongoing periodontal disease and the study suggests that everyday activities like chewing and tooth brushing, as well as dental procedures, may release the germ into the blood stream and then into the brain.
Sim Singhrao, PhD and a senior research fellow at the university said that the university is working on the idea that when our brains are exposed to bacteria from the gums over a prolonged period of time, the resultant immune responses could lead to the death of nerve cells and possibly even memory loss.
This research follows on from a paper released in 2010 by the New York University, which also drew a link between poor oral health and an increase in risk of cognitive dysfunction.
This link shows that dentists may have an important role in improving the outlook of dementia and Alzheimer’s affected people. As dementia and Alzheimer’s result in a progressive decline in the ability to be self-sufficient, people affected with Alzheimer’s and dementia may not have the type of oral care routines that un-effected people have.
If poor oral health can worsen and even cause cognitive dysfunction then dentists need to be at the forefront of any movement designed to improve oral health amongst effected people.
A new partnership between the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and Alzheimer’s Australia has dedicated itself to increasing awareness amongst dentists about the oral health issues that patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s and dementia face.
The partnership asked a broad cross-section of patients and carers to report on what they felt where the key issues that people living with, and affected by, Alzheimer’s and dementia had to face. Dentistry and oral care came up as a key concern.
342,00 Australian’s are living with dementia and that number is expected to grow, so it’s important that dentists come up with treatment plans that can look after the needs of affected patients.
Valerie Jenner, a carer for her husband with Alzheimer’s has seen the partnership as a real step forward in dental care for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“Dentists can’t be with their patients who have dementia 24/7, so there’s a lot they don’t understand and they need some guidance on how to build successful relationships with them,” Valerie said.
The building of a relationship is a crucial step in creating effective dental treatment plans for effected patients. This is particularly important for people with dementia as they have difficult with new things – new environments, new faces. Continuity of care is really critical for a patient with Alzheimer’s.
These cognitive diseases are progressive, so the ability to create dental care plans to combat this is another advantage in the patient building a long-term relationship with their dentist. If a dentist has been seeing a patient over a number of years they can notice things such as decrease in mobility or memory lapses and tailor the dental plan to ensure their oral health doesn’t have to decline as a result.
The suggestion of different types of toothbrushes that offer better grip, higher-fluoride toothpaste or techniques to help combat memory lapses are key ways in which dentists can improve oral health, and therefore cognitive health, outcomes for their patients.
The partnership are focusing on creating a set of online resources that will help to educate dentists on the relationship between poor oral health care and dementia and Alzheimer’s and improvements have already been seen.
This is fantastic news, not just for people already suffering from these cognitive illnesses but also for future generations.
The ability of the Porphyromonas gingivalis to cause Alzheimer’s or dementia in healthy people is still not concrete, but there seems to be enough in the two research papers to suggest that there is an element of causality present and this should not be ignored.
The importance of a good, lifelong oral health regime has always been understood but the link between poor oral health and these crippling illnesses has cast an even more important light on the importance of good dentistry.