Better Chewing Ability Might Reduce Dementia Risk

Now it seems that Swedish researchers have a found a new factor that influences the risk of suffering from dementia: Chewing ability.

smiling-senior-coupleDementia – the deterioration of our cognitive functions and gradual loss of abilities such as memory, decision-making and problem solving – is a condition that doctors and scientists have long been searching for a way to cure or prevent. Now it seems that Swedish researchers have a found a new factor that influences the risk of suffering from dementia: Chewing ability.

A team researchers at Karolinska Institutet and from Karlstad University in Sweden looked at tooth loss, chewing ability and cognitive function in a group of 557 people aged 77 or older. Comparing all the data, they found that among those who had difficulty chewing hard food such as apples there was a much higher risk of developing dementia. The connection between chewing ability and dementia risk was not related to variables such as sex, age, education and mental health problems which have also been reported to influence the dementia risk. Whether the chewing ability was maintained with dentures or with natural did not effect the dementia risk either. As long as the person was able to chew well, the dementia risk was lower.

There is still no clear answer as to why chewing ability has an impact on the dementia risk. One theory is that a lower chewing ability means less blood flow to the brain. The question of the exact connection must be further researched.

Our chewing ability is linked to the number and quality of our teeth. A loss of chewing ability could be the cause of numerous cavities or periodontitis, which can all be prevented through adequate dental hygiene.

Duangjai Lexomboon, Mats Trulsson, Inger Wårdh & Marti G. Parker: Chewing Ability and Tooth Loss: Association with Cognitive Impairment in an Elderly Population Study
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 4 October 2012
Karolinska Institutet

Premature babies grow smaller teeth

Research conducted at Malmö baby-black-in-white-dressUniversity’s Dental Faculty has proved that children born before the 33rd week of pregnancy will grow permanent teeth that are up to 10% smaller in size compared with other children. The research was conducted by orthodontist Liselotte Paulsson-Björnsson, who examined the permanent front teeth and 1st molars in 80 children aged 8 to 10 years. All children had been born prematurely and their teeth were generally smaller and had larger spaces between them. Although this does not affect the function of the teeth it might cause problems cosmetically, thus creating a greater need for orthodontic treatment in this group of children.

Liselotte Paulsson-Björnsson points out that due to the great progress in the care of prematurely born babies within the last 15 years, the results of her research might not apply to babies born prematurely today. She also needs to examine whether it is only the front teeth and 1st molars that are affected or whether teeth developed after birth will also be smaller.


Can nanotechnology replace dental fillings?

Last week many media outlets reported that nanotechnology made a gel that can regenerate teeth and make dental fillings obsolete. Is this true?

Root canal instrumentsA group of French scientists within the field of nanotechnology recently made big headlines all over the world, when they published a study about a nanotechnology gel that could regenerate teeth. The research was by several media outlets interpreted to mean that dental fillings would soon be made obsolete by this new breakthrough in nanotechnology. It was reported that the gel could just be added to the cavity of the tooth and that the tooth would then repair itself without ever needing a filling. Is this true? Is nanotechnology really this close to replacing dental fillings as the primary treatment of tooth cavities?

The fact of the matter in this case is that nanotechnology is not about to replace dental fillings. The research was about how to regenerate the pulp inside the tooth and not the crown itself. The pulp of the tooth consists of nerves and blood vessels. It is a live tissue in contrast to the tooth enamel which consists of approximately 96% inorganic material. Sometimes the dental pulp becomes infected due to deep cavities or trauma. When the dental pulp becomes infected it will start to die and so far the only treatment of this condition has been to remove the dental pulp and replace it with a soft material called gutta-percha. After such a root canal treatment the tooth will be dead and is now weaker than before. It will often be necessary to protect the now more fragile tooth with a dental crown to prevent it from breaking or cracking.

What the French nanotechnology researchers might have discovered is a way to regenerate the dying pulp so that the tooth won’t have to die. By using a multilayered, nano-sized film — only 1/50,000th the thickness of a human hair containing a substance called alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone, or alpha-MSH the nanotechnology scientists have proved that they can fight inflammation and increase the number of dental pulp fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are the cells inside the dental pulp that regenerate the pulp fibres and are the main type of cell found in dental pulp.

Hopefully this new breakthrough within nanotechonology – which has so far only been tested on laboratory rats – will in time reduce the need for root canal therapy.

Most people have mercury in their blood – is it harmful?

A new report from the CDC shows that most people have measurable levels of mercury in their blood and urine. What are the dangers?

chemistryA new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals that scientists have found measurable levels of mercury in most of the 8500 persons who recently took part in a national health and nutrition survey. In the comprehensive research program scientists analyzed blood and urine samples in order to measure the total mercury content of the large number of participants.

The report from the CDC concluded that:

* Most of the participants had a measurable amount of mercury in their bodies.

* Mercury levels tended to increase with age.

* All blood mercury levels were less than 33 µg/L.

* Blood and urine mercury in the US population were similar to levels seen in other developed countries.

Although the mercury levels caused by dental fillings are not thought to be harmful to the human body, the CDC scientists admitted that determining what constitutes “safe” levels is still a question that needs to be researched more.

Determining safe levels of mercury exposure is of utmost importance since even small amounts of blood mercury content is suspected of causing neurodevelopmental effects in children. These effects include mental retardation, ADHD, autism and other neurological disorders.

The toxicity of mercury

There are different kinds of mercury, which are not all thought to be equally harmful to humans. Elemental mercury is found in many of the goods that we are exposed to every day such as thermometers, some light bulbs and dental amalgams. Elemental mercury is also used in industry and mining where it gets into the air when coal and other fossil fuels are burned. When we breathe in air that contains mercury vapour, elemental mercury enters our bodies.

In the body, elemental mercury usually forms inorganic compounds. Elemental mercury has not been proven harmful in small doses. However, very high levels of vapour concentrations can lead to severe lung damage, and exposure to low vapour concentrations over a long period of time can cause neurological disturbances, memory problems, skin rash, and kidney abnormalities.

Methyl mercury – the real cause for concern

The kind of mercury which causes the most concern is the kind which is called methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is formed, when microorganism in the marine environment “eat” and metabolize elemental mercury. These microorganisms and their methyl mercury content are then eaten by larger fish and other organisms and the methyl mercury is thus accumulated as it travels up through the food chain. At the top of the food chain we, the humans, are exposed to the methyl mercury when we eat fish or shellfish. Methyl mercury is especially harmful for pregnant women, because of its ability to pass through the placenta into the developing fetus where it might cause neurological damage.

Mercury from dental fillings is thus not as harmful to humans while it is in the mouth (elemental mercury) as it becomes when it ends up in the environment and is transformed into methyl mercury. As neurological defects in children continue to be on the increase however, scientists continue to study the toxicity of chemicals such as mercury and to question the existing “safe” levels of exposure to these.

“National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.”
CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, 2009.
US Department of Health and Human Services.