Spotting This On Your Mouth Could Double Your Risk Of Dementia

The common condition has been linked to dementia.
Ugur Karakoc via Getty Images

We’ve written before about how everything from eating your dinner to brushing your teeth and climbing the stairs can reveal early dementia.

But now, it seems that a simple glance at your mouth may reveal a potentially doubled dementia risk ― at least, that’s according to a new study from Uppsala University in Sweden.

Published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the study followed 1,002 70-year-olds for 15 years (who started out dementia-free), and seemed to find a relationship between herpes and dementia.

Herpes comes in two forms ― herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is responsible for oral herpes (cold sores). This affects about 70% of the UK population.

Then, there’s herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), which shows up as genital herpes and is usually sexually transmitted. About 23% of the UK population have this.

The study found that a herpes diagnosis may double your likelihood of getting dementia.


Well, to be clear, a correlation between herpes and dementia has been suspected for a long time ― this study seems to confirm it, but does not suggest causality.

“We still do not have answers regarding causal mechanisms of this association, whether the virus causes the disease or if there is an indirect link,” lead study author Erika Vestin told Medical News Today.

And Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases specialist, also told Medical News Today, “There could be important differences between those with or without herpes simplex virus (HSV) IgG status (past exposure) and those who developed dementia or not.”

“It is difficult to control all confounders that have been traditionally associated with dementia (like diabetes, hypertension, history of stroke or myocardial infarction), and the authors state that their entire cohort had relatively low rates of these conditions,” the doctor added.

Happily, very few of the people in the study ended up developing dementia in the 15 years they were studied ― which, though good news in real terms, the study admits may affect its findings. “The low AD incidence in this cohort
may have impaired the statistical power to detect associations with AD,” the paper says.

Nonetheless, the correlation between cold sores and other herpes was distinct in the paper, can has been in others. “Potential effects of herpes drugs on dementia risk need to be investigated in pharmaceutical drug studies,” Vestin said.

On the association between dementia and other infections like herpes, Alzheimer’s UK says, “There is currently not enough evidence to say that these infections contribute to the causes of dementia, or if they are a consequence of the weakening of the immune system caused by the diseases that cause dementia.”

Should I be worried if I have cold sores?

There doesn’t seem to be a point in getting too worried ― Vestin explains that while “there are indications from large register studies that herpesvirus drug use may be associated with a decreased risk of dementia among symptomatic herpes simplex carriers... there are no pharmaceutical trials to confirm this.”

“For now, herpes simplex carriers will have to rely on the same advice as the rest of the population, involving mainly lifestyle factors and cardiovascular health,” she added.

Dr. Gandhi agreed, saying that while we’re not sure about the link between cold sores and dementia, we do know that smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure are pretty definitely likely to heighten your susceptibility.

Given how common herpes virus infection is [among] young people, I would not let this study concern you too much,” she told Medical News Today.