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Brush up on your dental hygiene because a small study has found inflammation caused by gum disease can hasten decline within the brain.

Looking after your teeth throughout your life is vital for anyone. But a new study has found it’s particularly important for people with Alzheimer’s disease. This is because the body’s response to the inflammation within the gums is linked to greater cognitive decline.

The study, which was led by researchers from the University of Southampton and King’s College London, was only carried out on a very small number of people, so there needs to be much larger study before anything definitive can be said. However, the findings do lend weight to the belief that inflammation can be a major factor in brain decline.

Researchers investigated 59 people with mild to moderate dementia. They were cognitively assessed, had blood samples taken and a dental hygienist checked their oral health. The presence of gum disease – or periodontitis as it is known – was associated with a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline, the study suggested.

It’s thought this is because bacteria caused by gum disease leads to higher levels of antibodies. This is associated with an increase in levels of inflammatory molecules elsewhere in the body – which in turn have been linked to greater rates of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the study ‘adds evidence to the idea that gum disease could potentially be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s.’

‘If this is proven to be the case, better dental hygiene would offer a relatively straightforward way to help slow the progression of dementia and enable people to remain independent for longer,’ he said.

However, he also emphasised that as the study as ‘small’ and said it was currently ‘unclear’ whether the gum disease was the cause or the effect, because people with dementia have a tendency to not have great oral health.

‘We don’t know if the gum disease is triggering the faster decline of dementia, or vice versa,’ he said.