Link between gum disease and cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease

A new study published today (Thursday 10 March 2016) in the journal PLOS ONE suggests a link between gum disease and greater rates of cognitive decline in people in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

In this observational study, led by King's College London and the University of Southampton, 59 participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease were cognitively assessed and a blood sample was taken to measure inflammatory markers in their blood. The participants' dental health was then assessed by a dental hygienist. The majority of participants (52) were followed-up at six months when all assessments were repeated. 

The presence of gum disease was associated with a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline in participants over the six-month follow-up period of the study. The authors conclude that gum disease is associated with an increase in cognitive declinein Alzheimer's disease, possibly by mechanisms linked to the body's inflammatory response. 

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society said: 

'This small study suggests that people who have both Alzheimer's and gum disease declined in memory and thinking more quickly than those who had better dental health. It's unclear however, whether this is cause or effect - if the gum disease is triggering the faster decline of dementia, or vice versa.

'This study adds evidence to the idea that gum disease could potentially be a contributing factor to Alzheimer's, but we would need to see clinical trials to provide more solid evidence. If this is proven to be the case, better dental hygiene would offer a relatively straightforward way to help slow the progression of dementia and enable people to remain independent for longer. 

'We know as dementia progresses, a person may lose the ability to clean their teeth, stop understanding that their teeth need to be kept clean, or lose interest in doing so. If this does happen then carers may need to help with this task - a dentist or hygienist can provide guidance and support on how to assist in cleaning another person's teeth.'

Further information

  • Find out about dementia and gum disease