Deterioration of mental function tied to gum disease at any adult age

November 27, 2008

People with gingivitis-gum disease have worse mental function than their peers whose gums are in better shape, a new analysis of US data shows. The findings raise the possibility that system-wide inflammation due to gum disease could have harmful effects on brain function.  Dr. Robert Stewart of the Institute of Psychiatry in London says that it is known that older people with bad teeth are more likely to have dementia and cognitive impairment; this new analysis is to see whether a similar relationship is present in younger people.
The researchers analyzed data on 5,138 adults aged 20 to 59 who had completed two tests of cognitive function, and another 1,555 adults aged 70 and older given a different mental function test. After the researchers adjusted for the effects of age, they found associations between bleeding gums and tooth loss to worse performance on any of the three cognitive tests. The study is published in the October 2008 issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Periodontal disease linked to metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors for developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes – it includes having high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, elevated blood sugar, high LDL-bad cholesterol, low HDL-good cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides (another type of blood fat). The syndrome is usually diagnosed when a person has three or more of these traits.
Several studies have linked a more severe level of gum disease (Periodontitis) that is seen in up to 40 percent of adults, with system-wide problems such as low grade inflammation and a reduced ability to metabolize glucose (sugar). People with periodontitis are also at about 20 percent greater risk of heart disease. In middle-aged adults, gum disease goes hand in hand with the metabolic syndrome, UK researchers report.
Researchers at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute in London looked at data on 13,994 men and women. They found that 34% of people with moderate periodontitis and 37 % with severe periodontitis were classified as having metabolic syndrome, compared to just 18 % of people with no gum disease or only mild periodontitis. The likelihood of being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome rose with the severity of bleeding in the gums, as well as the proportion of periodontal pockets, or abnormally deep spaces between teeth and gums. The relationship was especially strong among people 40 and older.
After adjusting for factors that might influence the results, adults older than age 45 suffering from severe periodontitis were 2.3-times more likely to have metabolic syndrome than unaffected individuals. It's still not entirely clear how gum disease and heart disease might be related but according to the researchers and their colleagues at University College London, they recently found out that treating severe periodontitis resulted in better blood vessel function six months later. The study is published in the October 2008 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.