How looking after your gums may help you protect against dementia

We already know that people with tooth decay and gum ­disease run the risk of ­serious heart ­complications like infection of heart valves, leading to heart failure. But is it possible gum disease could be ­connected to dementia?

Well, the Mysmile study, led by the University of Bristol, is trying to answer this question by investigating whether improving oral health can slow memory loss in people with ­early stage Alzheimer’s disease. Would a daily brushing routine help to protect against dementia?

Dementia affects nearly one million people in the UK – one in 11 people over age 65 currently have dementia – and the number is expected to rise to 1.6 million by 2050. But we still don’t know how to delay or slow it down.

The Mysmile research team believes Alzheimer’s could be linked to oral hygiene and certain bacteria in the mouth. They think looking after teeth and gums could make a difference.

They are still looking for volunteers for their important work who will be assessed for oral health. If eligible, they will be asked to take part in the trial to see if improved dental care and oral hygiene can slow down the ­progression of dementia.

The study is for people aged 60 and over who have early signs of change – known as mild cognitive ­impairment – or with diagnosed early stage ­Alzheimer’s dementia. The team believes these people are the most likely to benefit from enhanced oral hygiene and dental care.

Participants will be invited to attend an assessment of their memory and given a dental check at the Bristol Brain Centre, and will be given an ­electric toothbrush.

Those with signs of gum disease will be divided into two groups. One group will continue with their usual dental routine, while the other group will be offered additional dental care.

Professor Nicola West of Bristol University says: “Improving dental hygiene is good for all of us, and cleaning teeth twice a day reduces the oral bacteria in a person’s blood stream. We want to find out if a daily brushing routine could also help to protect against dementia.”

Her colleague, professor Elizabeth Coulthard, adds: “We need more people to help us find out whether good dental health also improves brain health. It is very exciting to think that people could live independently for longer through measures such as improving their oral health.”

  • Recruitment is open until August. For more details or to register your interest, email research nurse Nikki Hellin at or call 07773 579130.