A recent piece in the Washington Post highlighted the importance of oral health to overall health, exploring the possible link between poor oral health and increased dementia risk. Stressing that more research is needed, the article said that “[e]merging evidence suggests that what goes on in our mouth can affect what goes on in our brain — and may even potentially affect our risk for dementia. . . . recent observational studies have suggested that oral health may be a modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia.” Because there are so many contributing factors to both dementia and worse oral health and tooth loss, such as smoking, researchers say it is difficult to untangle them. The theory from much of this research explained in the article, is that chronic inflammation, such as from severe gum disease, can “spill from the mouth into the rest of the body.” The research cited continues that“[g]um disease is linked to an increase in pro-inflammatory molecules in the blood . . .Chronic inflammation in the body can, in turn, lead to chronic neuroinflammation in the brain, which induces neurodegeneration and plays a key role in Alzheimer’s.”
The Center for Medicare Advocacy has long called for expansions in Medicare coverage of comprehensive oral health care, both because of the dire need for oral health treatments for beneficiaries, and because of the links between oral health and overall health. Though more research is necessary to provide a definitive causal link between oral health and dementia risk, it is clear that oral health impacts overall health, well-being and quality of life. The Center will continue to advocate for a robust, comprehensive oral health benefit in Medicare Part B.
October 12, 2023 – K. Kertesz