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Preventing gum disease may help avoid Alzheimer’s

People may be able to avoid — or at the very least, delay — Alzheimer’s by avoiding gum (periodontal) disease, among other healthy lifestyle measures such as increasing exercise and drinking fruit and vegetable juice.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and this number is expected to nearly triple to 14 million by the year 2060, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alzheimer's and overall health

Research suggests that even though family history may predispose a person to developing Alzheimer's, various behaviors — if started early enough in life — may help delay the onset of the disease. It’s best to begin introducing healthy habits early in life, the researchers say, although studies have shown that even middle-aged people can benefit from the lifestyle changes.

The researchers tracked thousands of older adults (ages 50 to 73, and without dementia at the start) for nearly a decade, specifically monitoring six behaviors and how they affected the onset of Alzheimer’s:

  • Eating a healthy diet (more fruits and vegetables, less processed meat and refined grains)
  • Doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity
  • Sleeping six to nine hours a night
  • Consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol
  • Not smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Those who followed all six healthy behaviors cut their dementia risk roughly in half (by 51%), compared with people who led a less healthy lifestyle.

Alzheimer's and gum disease

Research also suggests that oral health is an essential part of the overall picture. An analysis of data by scientists at the National Institute on Aging revealed that the bacteria that cause gum disease are also associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, especially vascular dementia.

Regular dentist visits are important for prevention of gum disease. Your dentist can remove tartar, which is plaque buildup that can irritate the gums and lead to tooth loss. Dentists also can detect early signs of gum disease. However, prevention begins at home. Brushing and flossing twice daily, eating right and avoiding tobacco will help prevent gum disease.

Last updated September 1, 2021

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.