Can Dental Negligence Lead to Dementia?

dental negligenceYour dental health is important. Not only does it help prevent bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay, it has a host of other benefits as well.

Dental negligence is widespread and has devastating consequences.

Nearly half of adults over 30 suffer from some form of gum disease. Nearly 25% of children under age five already have cavities.

The impact extends far beyond your mouth, breath, and gums. Dental negligence has a large number of consequences for your overall health, including links to dementia.

Oral Health and Overall Health

When you take proper care of your teeth and gums with daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental visits, you help regulate the number of bacteria in your mouth. Too much bacteria leads to oral infections, tooth decay, and gum disease.

Some medications that we take frequently, such as cold medicine, allergy medications, painkillers, and antidepressants, can have a side effect of reducing the amount of saliva in your mouth because illness often causes excess salivation. This reduced saliva normally isn’t a big deal, but when paired with dental negligence, it allows bacteria to multiply even more quickly.

Once gum disease becomes severe, the bacteria causing the infection start to affect other parts of your body. If you also take medication or have a health condition that weakens your immune system, the impact could be especially severe.

Some common conditions that are linked to oral health include:

  • Endocarditis. This infection of the lining of the heart happens when bacteria or germs from other parts of your body, such as your mouth, get into the bloodstream and attach to damaged areas of the heart.
  • Premature Birth. Periodontis, or heavy infections of the gums, have been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection, making dental health especially important. Dental negligence can cause infections to be especially severe in diabetes patients.

Dental health is also strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Dental Negligence and Alzheimer’s Disease

In 2013, a study from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK discovered some peculiar bacteria in the brains of those who had Alzheimer’s disease during their life. It was Porphyromonas gingivalis, a type of bacteria normally associated with chronic gum disease.

When patients need invasive dental treatment, this type of bacteria has a much higher chance of entering the bloodstream and making its way to the brain. Invasive dental treatment is generally needed as the result of dental negligence.

Each time bacteria enters the brain from the bloodstream, it triggers an immune response as the body works to eliminate the intruder. These immune responses release excess chemicals that can kill neurons.

This type of activity triggers symptoms like confusion and worsening memory – typical of Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies also found that Alzheimer’s was linked with dental negligence. In 2010, researchers linked gum infection and Alzheimer’s, finding that gum disease could increase the risk of dysfunction within the brain.

More studies are needed before dental negligence can be directly linked to the development or worsening of Alzheimer’s. However, the connections that have been found so far are significant.

Avoiding Dental Negligence During Alzheimer’s

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, focusing on dental health right away is vital. The Alzheimer’s Society from the United Kingdom has a variety of suggestions that may help.

Avoid Gum Disease and Tooth Decay

Removing excess bacteria and avoiding the need for invasive dental procedures are both important elements of protecting yourself from making Alzheimer’s worse. As a result, daily brushing, flossing, and use of antiseptic mouth rinse are very important.

Daily dental care helps remove plaque on the teeth, which not only protects the gums but keeps acid from causing tooth decay. You should also have regular dental cleanings to ensure that your teeth are properly cared for.

Food supplements may be prescribed for a patient having difficulty eating. These supplements contain high levels of sugar, which can negatively impact dental health.

If a dementia patient suffers anxiety, they can also struggle with keeping their dental health up, so be sure a caregiver is available to help when needed.


Many older Americans wear partial or full dentures, and plaque can easily build up on them. When this happens, natural teeth can begin to decay and gum disease can occur.

A person with dementia should be encouraged to wear them as long as possible, even if they need help putting them in. This will help them maintain their dignity, a normal diet, and their self-esteem.

Alzheimer’s patients may lose their dentures if they are in unfamiliar environments, or if they struggle with memory issues. While dentures are challenging to replace, a dementia patient who doesn’t wear their dentures for a period of time may forget how to do so, so they should be replaced as soon as possible.

Detecting Dental Problems in Alzheimer’s Patients

As dementia progresses, it becomes harder for them to communicate if they are having pain or discomfort with their teeth and gums. Here are some behaviors that may indicate dental problems that need to be addressed:

  • Refusal to eat hard or cold food
  • Pulling at face or mouth frequently
  • Refusal to wear dentures
  • Increased restlessness or disturbed sleep
  • Moaning or shouting

If these symptoms don’t have a clear explanation, the cause needs to be identified. A dental assessment should be part of this process.

Dental Health Matters

Studies have shown time and again that dental negligence is connected to both gum disease and tooth decay, and that those bacteria can travel to the brain. These bacteria can cause immune responses that lead to problems in the brain and may cause or impact Alzheimer’s disease.

If you or someone you love gets diagnosed with dementia, dental health needs to be a top priority along with the usual medical care. Daily brushing and flossing is vital, as is caring for dentures and receiving regular dental exams and cleaning.

Science continues to examine the links between dental negligence and dementia, but they already know enough to make it clear that dental hygiene is an important priority throughout your life. 

Make dental hygiene a priority now and give yourself the best protection you can. To schedule an appointment to learn more and get a thorough examination, contact Doug Lewis Dentistry today!