July 16, 2009
By Anne Harding
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – The National Institutes of Health has awarded $1.3 million to an interdisciplinary team that will investigate how people’s oral health might affect their memory, and vice versa.
Dr. Bei Wu, a gerontologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, will lead the research, which will examine existing national and regional studies of thousands of people.
Research has already established a strong association between oral health and heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Yet there has been little study of how the state of an older person’s teeth and gums relates to their mental function, Dr. Richard Crout, who is participating in the new study, noted in an interview with Reuters Health. Nevertheless, he added, it’s becoming increasingly clear that “to have overall good general health you need to have good oral health.”
Crout is an expert on gum disease and associate dean for research in the West Virginia University School of Dentistry in Morgantown.
Last year, Drs. Wu and Crout and others reported a link between poorer oral health and lower brain function in older adults. The study, which is ongoing, includes 273 patients from West Virginia who underwent brain function testing, dental evaluations, and blood tests to check for inflammatory proteins associated with poor cognitive function.
In the new study, the researchers will use several existing data sets to further examine the relationship between oral health and cognitive function over a period of time. These large data sets will allow them to control for several factors that could affect both oral health and cognitive function, such as socioeconomic status and medical conditions including cardiovascular diseases.
“Out of this we are hopeful to have more evidence to support the tenet that oral health is also important for cognitive health and to increase our understanding of determinants of oral health among older adults,” Crout said. The study may also yield strategies for improving cognitive function by improving oral health.