The discovery of a link could have ramifications for a growing field of geriatric dentistry, a field that has traditionally focused on young adults, but which has begun to expand to include older patients with dementia.
Professor Brian Sibley, from the University of Western Australia, and his colleagues examined data from the Victorian Cohort Study, which is the oldest cohort of Australians aged 65 and over.
“We were interested in how older people with dementia were getting their oral health,” Professor Sibleo said.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, involved collecting data from nearly 10,000 people over a 15-year period.
It included interviews and biometrics, which revealed that people with older age were more likely to report oral health problems, including mouth and gums infections, and to be unwell.
Professor Siblehys findings also revealed that oral health had an effect on the risk of developing dementia.
When the researchers looked at the data, they found that older people who reported oral health issues were more than twice as likely to develop dementia as those who did not.
However, the researchers said their results showed that the risk associated with oral health was only slightly elevated for people who also had a higher level of cognitive impairment.
In the study, researchers identified a cluster of genetic risk factors associated with dementia, including a gene known as COVID-19, which can be associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Professor Suelo said the study was important for dentists, as the prevalence of dementia was rising.
“Dentists need to be aware that the association between oral and dental health is not limited to older people,” he said.
“We know from a lot of other research that oral care is associated with lower rates of dementia in older people, and that is one of the ways in which we can prevent dementia in our population.”
Professor Sielo said that dentists were also at risk of having the same genetic risk as older adults in terms of their ability to make the right decisions.
“People who are more vulnerable to dementia can have poorer oral health outcomes, and we need to work together to find a way to make sure dentists get the support they need to make good decisions,” he added.
While there has been a lot more research into the role of oral health in dementia, it has not been done with young people.
Dr Joanne Taylor, from Curtin University, said the new research showed there was an association between lower levels of oral hygiene and dementia.
“If there is an association, it means that it is there, but it is not yet clear whether that association is causal,” she said.