Cognitive decline occurs more rapidly when a person with Alzheimer’s disease also has periodontal disease, according to new research published in the journal PLOS One.
This research comes as the healthcare community grapples with recently published statistics suggesting a 40% increase in the number of Alzheimer’s cases by 2050—a number that comes with a $1.1 trillion price tag in addition to the detrimental impacts to individuals, families, and society.
For the study, researchers recruited 60 individuals with mild to moderate dementia who all had at least ten teeth, were non-smokers, and who had no periodontal treatment in the past six months. After administering two cognitive health tests, they took a blood sample to test for inflammatory biomarkers and antibodies to periodontal pathogen P. gingivalis. Individuals also underwent an oral examination.
After six months, they found that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease who also had poor oral health showed a marked increase in cognitive decline, regardless of their initial cognitive state. They also noted that periodontitis was associated with a “relative increase in the pro-inflammatory state” between initial assessment and follow-up,
Researchers aren’t entirely sure as to what they should attribute this increased rate of cognitive decline. Previous studies have shown that it is possible for periodontal bacteria to migrate to the brain to cause harm. Another theory is that the increased inflammation that has been so inextricably linked with periodontal disease (which was evidenced in this study) contributes to the added risk of cognitive decline.
Though a small study, this research adds to the mounting evidence that periodontal pathogens and inflammation play a significant role in the etiology and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. And, as the study authors noted, if this relationship does exist, periodontal treatment may well be a future treatment option in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.