A major research grant will help scientists study the links between memory and oral health in a bid to establish control over Alzheimer's disease.
The news of a $1.3 million study to be carried out on thousands of participants has been welcomed by the UK's leading oral health charity - the British Dental Health Foundation.
Research has long associated oral health with overall health problems, including dementia - though no studies have made clear how the state of the teeth and mouth affect mental function.
Last year researchers found a link between mild memory loss and gum disease1 and the seven-figure grant will enable examination of medical records of thousands of Americans to further pursue the link.
Foundation chief executive Dr Nigel Carter welcomed the news saying: "Oral health and gum disease in particular has been increasingly linked to overall health through studies such as this exciting piece of research."The recent review of NHS dentistry suggested the government is committed to preventive care.
"It would be a great boost if scientists could prove preventive treatment could not only protect our teeth but also help prevent chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's.
"We will watch developments with interest and urge the public to make sure they look after their oral health with simple steps which can reduce the risk of gum disease.
"Minimising the risks caused by poor oral hygiene is as simple as brushing teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and visiting the dentist regularly for professional check-ups."
The US studies will be led by Dr Bei Wu of the University of North Carolina and Dr Richard Crout of the University of West Virginia, who will continue with a program testing oral health and memory in 273 people aged 70.
The new funding will establish larger studies looking for links between oral health and brain function over time, while scientists will also seek to establish a link between improved cognitive function and better oral hygiene through intervention to improve oral health.
In an interview this week Dr Crout, who has predicted that dentists may in future be in a position to administer memory tests on older patients, said: "to have overall good general health you need to have good oral health."
1. Cognitive Function and Oral Health Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults, Wei, B et al, 2008.For more information visit http://biomed.gerontologyjournals.org/cgi/content/full/63/5/495Editor's notes.