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Dementia and Tooth Loss

March 3 2022 | Author: Supernova Staff Editor(Jeffrey)

One of the most important concepts of dentistry is that the mouth is an entry point of the human body that dictates overall health. In other words, although a diagnosis from a dentist may be primarily focused in the mouth, it does not count out other issues a patient may be going through. Many people would be shocked to hear that our oral health can actually influence the likelihood of serious diseases like Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

In recent studies, research has shown that the development of dementia correlates with poor oral health. Without proper oral care, harmful bacteria can populate the mouth causing periodontitis or gum disease. These bacteria may travel through the bloodstream from the mouth to the brain and cause inflammation which can alter cognitive ability. It was also found that the same bacteria responsible for gum disease is linked to other conditions such as stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.

On the other hand, common symptoms of periodontitis include bleeding gums and loose teeth. In more severe cases of gum disease, patients end up losing their teeth. Studies suggest that missing teeth may also contribute to developing dementia. When a person chews, the movement of teeth stimulates a part of the brain known as the hippocampus: a region responsible for memory. Thus, less chewing would mean decreased stimulation, which would detrimentally affect brain functionality. This phenomenon is demonstrated in patients who require a full set of dentures.  A study showed that when these patients go without their dentures for a period of time, they tend to forget how to wear their appliance(s) altogether. However, if a patient is looking to find a solution to replace missing teeth, dentures are not their only option. A permanent alternative is found in dental implants: an artificial prosthetic tooth that is secured onto a patients’ jaw.

Overall, it is very important to keep in mind that dementia-related studies in dentistry do not imply causality. There is still a lot of room for research as the sample size for these cases is on the lower end of the spectrum. Also, patients diagnosed with dementia are expected to have poor oral hygiene as the sense of their daily habits diminishes. Furthermore, there are other factors to consider when monitoring an individual’s oral health and risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Genetics, socioeconomic status, access to care, diet, etc., just to name a few. Regardless of whether oral health complications are a direct cause of dementia, it is still heavily recommended to maintain a healthy oral cavity as it is necessary for living a comfortable everyday life.