The latest statistics from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America finds that an estimated 5.1 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The chance of developing this debilitating disease doubles every five years past the age of 65. As life expectancy increases, there is an ever more critical need to understand the causes and risk factors of Alzheimer’s, and how it might be prevented, if not cured. A recent study of elderly people by researchers in Japan, with findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, uncovered an important link between the loss of teeth and the chance of developing this neurological condition.
Details of the Study Linking Missing Teeth to Alzheimer’s
The team followed 1,566 Japanese men and women over the age of 60 between 2007 and 2012. During this time, 180 (11.5 percent) developed some form of dementia, most commonly Alzheimer’s. The study found that the risk of the disease rose by 62 percent for individuals with 10 to 19 teeth compared to those with at least 20 of their 32 original teeth. People with just one to 9 teeth were found to be 81 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s during the following five years. However, for people with no teeth at all, the risk factor was 63 percent. It is believed that this may be because they have false teeth instead.
Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Caused by Gum Disease?
These findings led the researchers to the conclusion that the more natural teeth an elderly person retains, the less likely they are to develop dementia in the future. There are differing opinions as to why this is the case. It may be that chewing increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain, keeping it healthy. Or the loss of teeth might lead to unhealthy eating habits, possibly leading to inflammation of the gums and gum disease, which then contributes to dementia. Chronic inflammation has been found to be a factor in mental decline. Poor dental health can also be a sign of one’s overall health, including a heightened risk of dementia.
Good Dental Hygiene for Better Mental Health
Whatever the cause, this discovery indicates that good dental hygiene, which includes daily brushing, flossing and the use of mouthwash, is important for optimal mental health. As lead researcher, Dr. Tomoyuki Ohara from the Kyushu University in Japan, states, “Our findings emphasize the clinical importance of dental care and treatment, especially in terms of maintenance of teeth from an early age for reducing the future risk of dementia.”
Other studies have indicated the same results. Scientists discovered that gum disease, which is especially prevalent among the elderly, can accelerate mental decline by as much as six times. A study in England found that daily brushing could slow down Alzheimer’s progression. These are important findings. It is estimated that 46.8 million people suffer from dementia, and it is believed that this number will nearly double every 20 years. As this is a disease which affects not only patients but their caretakers, being able to prevent or minimize its effects could have a profound positive social impact.