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A recent study published in Neurology suggests a possible connection between dental health and brain health. The study found that individuals with gum disease and tooth loss exhibited brain shrinkage in the hippocampus, a region associated with memory and Alzheimer’s disease.

Gum disease could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s

However, it is important to note that the study only establishes an association between gum disease/tooth loss and brain shrinkage and does not provide conclusive evidence that these conditions directly cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Study author Satoshi Yamaguchi said that gum disease and tooth loss, both prevalent conditions characterized by inflammation and deterioration of oral tissues, have a significant impact on oral health. Given their widespread occurrence, it is crucial to investigate a possible connection between these oral issues and dementia. Yamaguchi added that their study found that the conditions can play a role in the hippocampus, which is the brain region responsible for memory and thinking. Therefore this gives people more reason to observe oral hygiene.

The study enrolled 172 individuals above 67 years that didn’t have memory issues at the start of the study. They took memory tests and dental exams and also had brain scans to determine their hippocampus volume at the start of the four-year study.

Severe gum disease associated with accelerated brain shrinkage

Researchers assessed participants’ oral health by counting their teeth and examining their gum condition. They measured the gum tissue using periodontal probing depth, with readings of one to three millimetres considered healthy. Mild gum disease was characterized by probing depths of three or four millimetres in multiple areas, while severe gum disease involved depths of five or six millimetres in multiple areas, along with greater bone loss and potential tooth loss.

According to the study, there was a correlation between the number of teeth and the presence of gum disease with changes occurring in the left hippocampus of the brain. In individuals with mild gum disease, fewer teeth were connected to rapid brain shrinkage in the left hippocampus. Conversely, individuals with severe gum disease experienced accelerated brain shrinkage in the same region despite having more teeth.