Researchers at Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) link tooth loss and periodontal disease to cognitive decline in one of the largest and longest prospective studies on the topic to date, released in this month’s issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Dr. Elizabeth Krall Kaye looked for patterns in dental records from 1970 to 1973 to determine if periodontal disease and tooth loss predicted whether people did well or poorly on cognitive tests. She found that for each tooth lost per decade, the risk of doing poorly increased approximately eight to 10 percent.
More cavities usually meant lower cognition too. People with no tooth loss tended to do better on the tests. Dr. Kaye says inflammation is a possible cause, noting that other studies found higher levels of inflammation markers in people with Alzheimer’s. “Periodontal disease and caries are infectious diseases that introduce inflammatory proteins into the blood,” she says. “There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that inflammation raises your risk of cognitive decline and it could be that gum inflammation is one of the sources.”