When most people think of the consequences of gum disease, they think of cavities, tooth loss, and painful gums. However, there is another consequence you may have to face if you're not careful about keeping your gums in good health: dementia. Recent studies indicate that gum disease increases the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in early adults, and there is even evidence to suggest that it may cause milder cognitive impairment in many more patients.
The Link Between Gum Disease and Cognitive Impairment
How can sore, bloody gums interfere with brain function? Studies suggest that it might be the bacteria that contribute to gum disease that are to blame. These bacteria, which largely belong to the species Porphyromonas gingivalis, end up circulating in the bloodstream of patients with ongoing, untreated gum disease. As they circulate, they come into contact with the body's internal organs, leading to inflammation. In the brain, this inflammation is thought to lead to nerve cell damage, and subsequently, loss of cognitive function.
In some patients, long periods of gum disease early in life contribute to the development of obvious cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer's and dementia, in older age. However, a large number of patients likely experience minor cognitive impairment as a result of gum disease, but since their symptoms are so mild, they don't notice it. They might have a harder time recalling memories, following step-by-step instructions, or staying focused on tasks. A recent study found that those with the most severe gum disease scored the worst on tests in which they were asked to recall certain memories and perform calculations.
Protecting Your Gums and Your Mind
If you want to keep your brain sharp as you age, they you must start caring for your gums properly today. The next time you brush your teeth, keep an eye out for these symptoms of early gum disease:
- Bleeding after brushing or flossing
- Sore gums
- Overly red or swollen gums
If you notice the above symptoms, dedicate yourself to brushing and flossing daily, and use an antiseptic mouth rinse to kill oral bacteria. If your symptoms don't disappear within a few weeks, visit your dentist. Also make an appointment with your dentist if you notice that your gums are peeling away from your teeth, or that there is pus exuding from your gums. These are signs of more advanced gum disease that will likely require treatment by a dentist.
Gum disease is remarkably common, but that does not mean you should ignore its symptoms. Take care of your gums today, and you'll stay mentally sharp and reduce your risk of dementia as you age. For more information, contact a periodontist in your area.