Study links dental and mental health

Taken from: The Canton Repository
Alison Cutler, The Charlotte Observer 

Your dental and mental health could be linked, along with a host of other conditions, a new study from the United Kingdom found, calling the connection between gum disease and chronic illnesses a 'substantial public health burden.'

In the study, published on Dec.19 in the BMJ Open journal, researchers assessed medical health data from January 1995 to January 2019 to try to identify an association between periodontal diseases, such as gingivitis or periodontitis, and chronic diseases, including mental illness and cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.

The study indicated there was a link between the two.

'In this cohort, periodontal diseases appeared to be associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular, cardiometabolic, autoimmune diseases and mental ill health,' researchers concluded in the study. 'Periodontal diseases are very common; therefore, an increased risk of other chronic diseases represent a substantial public health burden.'

Periodontal diseases are the result of infection or inflammation of the gum and bone that support the teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gingivitis is the less severe stage of disease, while periodontitis can result in bone or teeth loss. Gum disease and tooth decay are the two most prominent threats to dental health, the CDC says.

And yet, it is all too common. Almost half of adults 30 years or older in the United States have some form of periodontal disease, and over 70% of adults older than age 65 develop it, according to the CDC. The universal challenge of maintaining dental hygiene was not dismissed by the researchers.

'Poor oral health is extremely common, both here in the UK and globally. When oral ill-health progresses, it can lead to a substantially reduced quality of life,' co-first author Dr. Joht Singh Chandan said in a news release about the study. 'However, until now, not much has been known about the association of poor oral health and many chronic diseases, particularly mental ill-health.'

The study compared 64,379 adults with a recorded diagnosis of periodontal disease to a group of 251,161 adults who were not diagnosed with periodontal disease.

The groups were paired by age; sex; deprivation levels, which include 'information on unemployment, household overcrowding and car/homeownership'; and registration rate.

Researchers then used logistic regression models to assess the odds of having chronic diseases between both groups. The results showed that the group with periodontal disease had a higher likelihood of having a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, cardiometabolic disease, autoimmune disease and mental illness, such as depression and anxiety, the study reported.

Based on the data, 9.9% of those diagnosed with periodontal disease were identified to have cardiovascular disease, compared with the group without periodontal disease (7.4%). Of the group with periodontal disease, 29.7% were reported to have mentally illness, compared with 19.5% of the group without dental disease.

'Our study demonstrates a significantly increased risk of all mental health illnesses in patients with a periodontal disease,' the study stated. 'Furthermore, within the same periodontitis cohort there was a significantly higher risk of developing depression. This provides further evidence for the potential psychosocial impact of periodontal diseases and an issue that is under-reported in the literature.'

The study noted that its limitations for research were that all of the diagnoses and medical information were contingent on whether they were accurate in the database. It also noted that while it took eligible patients diagnosed with periodontitis by general practitioners, they are not typically the ones responsible for identifying gum disease.

Other studies have offered insight about how dental health can affect other parts of the body and immunity. In a study earlier this year of about 34,000 adults, researchers found those with more tooth loss faced a 48% higher risk of cognitive impairment and 28% higher risk of dementia, McClatchy News reported.

Dental health may also impact COVID-19 cases.

One study published last year in the U.S. National Library of Medicine suggested that there may be a link between poor oral hygiene and severe COVID-19 cases, considering high amounts of bacteria in the mouth when dental hygiene is not practiced.

Since the lungs and mouth are constantly circulating bacteria between them, poor oral hygiene could play a part in respiratory infections or post-viral bacteria complications, the study reported, and maintaining proper hygiene is critical to prevent airway infections.

'Meanwhile, we recommend that oral hygiene be maintained, if not improved, during a SARS-CoV-2 infection in order to reduce the bacterial load in the mouth and the potential risk of a bacterial superinfection,' the study said. 'Bacteria present in patients with severe COVID-19 are associated with the oral cavity and improved oral hygiene may play a part in reducing the risk of complications.'

More people stopped going to the dentist at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, too. A study from September 2020 reported that dental services fell by 75% within March 2020 and 79% in April; from February to March 2020, tooth decay and cavities rose from fifth to the fourth most common dental diagnosis in urgent care centers.