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Arnold School of Public Health

Research suggests poor oral health may predict lower cognition among older adults

March 15, 2022 | Erin Bluvas,

Scientists* from the Arnold School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders have published the results from a study on the link between oral health and cognitive decline. Funded by a $400K R21 grant from the National Institute on Aging, the findings are some of the first to be reported from the study. The researchers found that older adults (ages 60+) with poor oral health were more likely to have lower cognition than their counterparts.

“Previous research has already shown that poor oral health is associated with impaired cognition and higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Anwar Merchant, epidemiology professor and principal investigator for the study. “Our goal is to determine whether we can use poor oral health as a predictor of cognitive decline so that we can improve risk prediction and early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”  

With this study, the researchers tested this theory by looking for an association between the presence of 19 IgG antibodies against periodontal microorganisms (i.e., a marker of poor oral health) and cognition in middle-aged and older adults who had not been previously diagnosed with cognitive impairment. They used data from more than 5,000 participants of the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The team’s analysis revealed that groups of IgG antibodies against periodontal microorganisms were associated with lower cognition among free-living adults 60 years and older. Because poor oral health precedes the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the authors believe that this knowledge could be used to predict risk for these conditions. If combined with currently available algorithms, this information could serve as a powerful tool for predicting and mitigating cognitive decline.

“Oral health information is currently not used in clinical practice to predict undiagnosed cognitive loss,” Merchant says. “If these findings are confirmed in subsequent studies, information from IgG antibodies could be combined with established risk factors to improve prediction of undiagnosed cognitive loss.”

*Co-authors include Anwar Merchant, Nadeesha Vidanapathirana, Matthew Lohman, Jiajia Zhang, Roger Newman-Norlund, and Julius Fridriksson.

The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: These analyses were supported by grant 1R21AG070449-01 from the National Institute on Aging.


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