Gum disease has historical links to stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and even arthritis.
While your patients might be surprised to hear this, it’s likely no shock to you. Oral health impacts the entire body, and problems with the mouth are bound to have consequences if left untreated.
Sadly, there’s another significant health problem associated with gum disease we can add to the list – that being Alzheimer’s disease.
This information was recently brought to light by the University Medical Center Greifswald’s research, which we’ll be summarizing below.
Given how common Alzheimer’s is in the senior community, and how devastating the disease can be, dental professionals must heed these results. Any chance to offset the issue can drastically improve your patients’ quality of life.
This article will take a deeper dive into the research and what it means for your practice and your patients:
Summarizing the University Medical Center Greifswald’s Research
Dr. Christian Schwann is part of Greifswald’s Polyclinic for Dental Prosthetics, Geriatric Dentistry, and Medical Materials Science. Schwann explained that it’s always been tough to do quality research that delves into periodontal disease, gum disease’s more severe form.
Elaborating further, Schwann explained that relevant statistical models are a recent development.
This introduction has made it possible to mirror a controlled clinical study by mixing the data from untreated and treated patients.
Studies of Dental Diseases Effects on People’s General Health Go Back Decades
Travel all the way back to 1997, and you’ll find the beginnings of a long-term research initiative known as the Study of Health in Pomerania/Life and Health in Western Pomerania (SHIP).
The study’s objective was to examine the influence of dental disease on the general health of people. Its findings showed that 15% to 45% of people were affected by inflammatory gum disease, depending on age.
This would be the first indication of a possible link between the onset of Alzheimer’s and gum disease treatment (or lack thereof).
SHIP results have been combined with Greifswald’s 177 treated patients. More specifically, 409 untreated patients from SHIP were used as a basis for comparison.
The researchers flagged the onset of Alzheimer’s disease using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data. After comparing this data to findings from the U.S. Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, the Greifswald team was able to individually measure the brain substance loss associated with Alzheimer’s.
When periodontitis treatments were applied to patients, there was a positive effect on moderate to severe brain matter loss.
Dr. Schwann clarifies that the work is far from done concerning links between Alzheimer’s and gum disease. There will be a continued need for observational studies involving simulated controlled clinical trials.
Takeaways for Dental Professionals
Professor Thomas Kocher is the head of periodontology, restorative dentistry, periodontology, endodontology, and pediatric and preventive dentistry at Greifswald. He explains that prevention and timely treatment of gum disease - something triggered by mass amounts of germs - is the main focus of the team’s approach.
Being more proactive will help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s well in advance.
Vigilance and hyper-awareness of potential symptoms of gum disease are musts for dentists who want their patients to lead happy and healthy lives.
Also, be mindful that this focus on gum disease prevention must start early. The research didn’t only revolve around seniors. These types of issues can have long-lasting impacts from a younger age that span into old age. At no point are any signs of gum disease anything to downplay.
Ensuring that your patients are coming in for regular visits so you can stay on top of warning signs allows you to offset potential issues before they start.
Oral Health Can Save Lives
As dentists, we know that poor oral health is linked to a number of conditions, chronic illnesses, and diseases in the body. The results from Greifswald’s research sheds further light on the importance of our patients’ overall healthcare and how we can help save lives.