By Mark Waghorn via SWNS
Bad breath can raise the risk of Alzheimer's by more than a fifth, according to new research.
An international study found people with poor dental hygiene are 21 percent more prone.
They are also 23 percent more likely to develop cognitive decline - which often leads to the devastating disease.
Scientists pooled data from 47 studies around the world. It underlines the importance of regular brushing and flossing - particularly in middle age.
"Poor gum (periodontal) health may increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia," said lead author Dr. Sam Asher, of the University of Western Finland.
Further analysis showed tooth loss to independently increase the risk of both conditions by 23 and 13 percent, respectively.
The findings have clinical implications. Regular visits to the dentist may help prevent
dementia, he said.
Globally, the number of dementia cases will triple to more than 150 million by 2050. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on lifestyle factors.
"Oral health measures, such as periodontitis and tooth loss, have only started to be recently explored," Asher said.
"Periodontitis is the inflammation of tooth-supporting tissues which in severe cases leads to tooth loss. It affects about 10 to 15 percent of the world's adult population."
Gum disease has been linked to diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses. It can lead to chronic systemic inflammation, he said.
Tooth loss may lead to people eating less healthily. What is more, chewing boosts blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
The analysis is among the biggest of its kind. It involved more than one million participants, many followed for over a decade.
"The findings of this review might indicate the involvement of multiple mechanisms in the association between periodontal and cognitive health," Asher said.
Gum disease is believed to kill neurons by increasing the number of inflammatory chemicals in the blood.
"Systemic inflammation per se is an independent determinant of cognitive deterioration and links other risk factors including diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol and even aging to cognitive deterioration," he said.
Tooth loss may also impair brainpower by reducing jaw strength - leading to loss of grey matter.
Asher said dentists are well placed to track and intervene in early changes in gum health and oral self care.
But services need to be sustained over time and adequate support provided in the home setting when deterioration in self care is identified.
"This is a comprehensive systematic review with qualitative assessment and meta-analysis," Asher said.
It highlights "the preventive potential of periodontal health for cognitive decline and dementia," he added.
Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia affect more than 920,000 people in the UK, a figure that will rise to 2 million within the next three decades.
The study is in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
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