Dementia Adds To Periodontal Disease Risk For Aging Population

Posted on Aug 08, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Our population is getting older, and not just that of the U.S.  Globally, nations are looking at an aging population and how to address the diminished physical and cognitive abilities facing them.

In Stockholm, Sweden, for example, researchers from the Karolinska Institute examined the data of over 58,000 persons between 2007 and 2015, including dental health data. Common problems associated with aging include xerostomia (dry mouth), root and tooth decay, and periodontal disease along with increased sensitivity to local anesthetics.

Researchers found that a reduction in the utilization of dental health services was more predominant in patients with neuro-degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, a particular form of dementia. Those who experienced diminished cognitive function were at higher risk of developing several oral conditions, including periodontal disease. (

Although forgetting twice-daily brushing and flossing and having regular dental visits may seem less urgent than tending to other health care issues, research is continually linking serious, and even deadly, diseases and conditions to the oral bacteria of periodontal disease. These include heart attack, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, preterm babies, impotency, some cancers, and erectile dysfunction (ED).

The massive Swedish study is a reminder that older adults may need added assistance when it comes to making their oral health a priority. This applies to at-home oral care routines and having periodic dental check-ups. For those in the U.S., the need is now and only becoming more dire with each passing year.

According to the U.S. Census (, “By 2060, people age 65 and older will comprise nearly one in four U.S. residents. Of this number, 19.7 million will be age 85 or older.”

And, the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention adds that life expectancy is nearing the age 100 mark with both sexes at 65 years having an average of another 19.3 years to live. While men at 65 years are looking at another 18 years (on average), age 65 women have an average of an additional 20.5 years.

These figures are especially alarming since studies show a dramatic decrease in the number of dental visits before and after a dementia diagnosis. The first step, obviously, is better organization to detect these patients and ensure they attend to their dental health.

If you have an aging loved one in your care who may be showing signs of dementia, consider ways to help them keep their oral health in good condition. This applies to those who have their natural teeth as well as those who wear dentures or partials. Many people assume that not having natural teeth eliminates the risk of developing gum disease. To the contrary, dentures and partials can rub sore spots on tender gum tissues, making them more vulnerable to bacterial penetration.

Begin by having a periodontist conduct a thorough periodontal examination to determine if there is the presence of periodontal disease. If not, he or she can help establish an effective at-home program to follow and schedule more-frequent dental check-ups.

Through research, we’re learning that maintaining good overall health starts with a healthy smile. Staying healthy throughout our lifetimes is a goal we can all strive for and an easy, loving way to help our aging population.

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