Gum disease could potentially be an early warning sign that a person may be at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a new study has suggested.
The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at 59 people who had all been diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia.
Led by teams from the University of Southampton and King's College London, the study took blood samples and cognitively assessed all of the participants, while their oral health was assessed by a specialist.
They found that those with gum disease could be associated with a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline.
It is thought that the body's reaction to inflammation in the gums speeds up the decline of the brain. This is not the first time that such a link between inflammation and Alzheimer's has been made, as previous studies have shown that the process causes immune cells to swell, which has been linked to dementia.
The team believe that their study further supports the notion that Alzheimer's is caused by inflammation.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer's Society, said the small study shows that people who have both Alzheimer's and gum disease declined in memory and thinking quicker than those who had better dental health.
However, he said it was unclear whether a cause and effect link could be made, but the findings add evidence to the idea that gum disease could be a contributing factor to Alzheimer's.
"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," Dr Brown added.
In the study, 22 people were found to have considerable gum disease, while the other 37 had much less severe gum disease.
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