NYU (US)—Periodontal (gum) disease may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction associated with Alzheimer’s disease in healthy individuals as well as in those who already are cognitively impaired.
Researchers examined 20 years of data and found fresh evidence that links gum disease to brain inflammation, neurodegeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease.
“The research suggests that cognitively normal subjects with periodontal inflammation are at an increased risk of lower cognitive function compared to cognitively normal subjects with little or no periodontal inflammation,” says Angela. Kamer, assistant professor of periodontology and implant dentistry at New York University.
The study builds on earlier research that found that subjects with Alzheimer’s disease had a significantly higher level of antibodies and inflammatory molecules associated with periodontal disease in their plasma compared to healthy people.
The latest findings are based on an analysis of data on periodontal inflammation and cognitive function in 152 subjects in the Glostrop Aging Study, which has been gathering medical, psychological, oral health, and social data on Danish men and women.
Kamer’s team compared cognitive function at ages 50 and 70, using the Digit Symbol Test, or DST, a part of the standard measurement of adult IQ. The DST assesses how quickly subjects can link a series of digits.
Periodontal inflammation at age 70 was found to be strongly associated with lower DST scores at age 70. Subjects with periodontal inflammation were nine times more likely to test in the lower range of the DST compared to subjects with little or no periodontal inflammation.
This strong association held true—even in those subjects who had other risk factors linked to lower DST scores, including obesity, cigarette smoking, and tooth loss unrelated to gum inflammation—and also for those who had a low DST score at age 50.
Kamer plans to conduct a follow-up study involving a larger, more ethnically diverse group of subjects, to further examine the connection between periodontal disease and low cognition.
Researchers from Copenhagen University contributed to the study.
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