Periodontitis also impairs our sense of
taste and smell!
PD Dr. Kristina Bertl, PhD MSc MBA
It is estimated that approximately 20% of the population has an impaired sense of taste and approximately 23% an impaired sense of smell; both of these occur in later life and mostly after the age of 60. Apart from the negative impact on quality of life, a disrupted sense of taste and smell can also have a negative impact on general health. For example, those affected may be inclined to use more salt and/or sugar when cooking, which in turn can lead to high blood pressure and/or diabetes.
As discussed in the literature, oral diseases, such as periodontitis, can contribute to an impaired sense of taste and smell. Three mechanisms are primarily discussed here:
- Increased apoptosis rate of the tongue’s taste cells due to the consistently high level of inflammatory factors.
- Increased deposit of biofilm on the tongue, forming a physical barrier between the tongue’s taste cells and the taste molecules.
- Impaired smell due to increased release of bacterial organic compounds (e.g. decay products).
A team of researchers from Denmark and the USA (Cassiano et al. 2023) looked at this issue and surveyed more than 1,200 participants about the presence of periodontitis, bad breath and their assessment of their sense of taste and smell. The study yielded the following interesting results:
- Approx. 31% of participants were suffering from periodontitis.
- Of those participants with periodontitis, the average breath quality stood at 42 (rated on a scale of 0 = no bad breath up to 100 = terrible breath).
- The proportion of participants who stated that they had an impaired sense of taste and smell was approx. 12% higher among those with periodontitis, which equates to roughly 38% of participants rather than 26%.
- If other factors with an influence on the sense of taste and smell (smoking, COVID-19 infection, etc.), were taken into account in the statistical evaluation, there still appeared to be a significantly higher chance of participants with periodontitis having an impaired sense of taste and smell.
Based on these results, it therefore appeared that periodontitis significantly increases the risk of an impaired sense of taste and smell. Certain weaknesses in this study must, of course, be taken into account – for example, the fact that it was based on a questionnaire – but this study does, nonetheless, highlight an interesting aspect and other negative accompanying symptoms of periodontitis. It will certainly be interesting to see if future studies can confirm these results and, if so, whether successful periodontal treatment can reverse this negative effect on the sense of taste and smell again.
- Cassiano LS, Ribeiro AP, Peres MA, Lopez R, Fjaeldstad A, Marchini L, Nascimento GG. Self-reported periodontitis association with impaired smell and taste: A multicenter survey (2023) Oral Dis, doi: 10.1111/odi.14601.