Study confirms: Gum recession promotes dementia risk

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Prevention and timely treatment of periodontitis important

Since 1997, the long-term SHIP study (Study of Health in Pomerania/Leben und Gesundheit in Vorpommern) has been researching the influence of dental diseases on people’s general health. It has been shown that inflammatory gum disease due to periodontitis, which affects 15 to 45 percent of people depending on their age, increases the risk of heart attack and dementia, among other things.

Now scientists:inside the University Medical Center Greifswald have published a new study in the American journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia*, in which the previous results could be confirmed with regard to a connection with Alzheimer’s disease. “It is very difficult to conduct methodologically meaningful studies on the effects of periodontitis, a common severe form of gum disease. Only recently developed statistical models make it possible to simulate a controlled clinical trial by combining available data from treated patients and untreated sufferers,” explained Dr. Christian Schwahn of the Polyclinic of Dental Prosthetics, Gerontology and Medical Materials Science. “Thus, for the first time, the relationship between treatment of gum disease and incipient Alzheimer’s disease could be analyzed in a quasi-experimental model of 177 periodontally treated patients from the Greifswald Approach to Individualized Medicine (GANI-MED) study and 409 untreated participants from the SHIP study.”

Moderate to strong influence clearly discernible

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data were used as an indicator of incipient Alzheimer’s disease. These were matched with MRI data from the U.S. Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative so that they could be used as an individual measure of Alzheimer’s-type brain matter loss.

Periodontal disease treatment administered by a dentist specializing in gum disease showed a positive effect on brain matter loss, which could be estimated as moderate to severe. “These results are remarkable in that the periodontitis patients were younger than 60 years at the time of the MRI examination, and the observation time between dental treatment and MRI examination in the patients averaged 7.3 years,” emphasized co-authors Prof. Thomas Kocher, director of the Polyclinic for Dental Preservation, Periodontology, Endodontology, Pediatric Dentistry and Preventive Dentistry, and Prof. Hans J. Grabe, director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Greifswald University Medical Center.

“Our approach clearly lies in the prevention and timely treatment of gum disease, which can be triggered by a variety of germs, in order to prevent such possible consequential damage in advance,” Kocher said.

Background periodontitis

Periodontitis, the inflammation of the periodontium, is one of the most common chronic diseases worldwide. In Germany, too, around 11.5 million people suffer from a severe form of this widespread disease. Periodontitis is thus the second most common disease of the oral cavity after caries.

If left untreated, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss as well as having an impact on general health and well-being. Like an iceberg, the disease progresses below the visible surface. And because it usually doesn’t hurt either, it’s often not detected until it’s far advanced. It is therefore important to be aware of warning signs of possible periodontitis and to visit the dentist at the first signs. This is because early detection and systematic treatment can bring the disease process to a halt.

Aesthetic or functional changes can thus be largely limited and the condition of the periodontium significantly improved.

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