This week’s breaking health news includes a look at the large share of Americans who know personally someone who struggles with addiction and what they think can be done.

And have you ever thought about seeing your dentist through telemedicine? Thousands or more Americans started to do that during the pandemic, when an in-person visit was too challenging.

Finally, researchers believe they may have figured out what kind of inflammation is more likely to raise the risk of dementia.

Helping others overcome addiction

More than 1 in 3 adults say they know someone who struggles with an addiction, according to a poll by the American Psychiatric Association. And they’d like to help — and feel qualified to do so. 

The recent survey found that 7 in 10 American adults know how to help someone struggling with addiction. More than half said they’d turn to a doctor to provide that assistance. 

That’s according to the association’s new Healthy Minds Monthly poll that shows respondents are more than happy to start a conversation about addiction.

“It’s promising … that Americans show such openness to talking with loved ones who may have substance use disorders or behavioral addictions,” Dr. Petros Levounis, president of the association, said in a news release

The survey was taken online by Morning Consult from August 12 to 13 and included responses from 2,201 adults, its margin of error plus or minus 2 percentage points. In the poll, addiction included psychological or physical dependence on either alcohol or drugs and noted it could also refer to behavior disorders, including problem sexual, internet or gambling activities.

The survey found that adults ages 18 to 34 were twice as likely as adults 65 or older to say they know someone battling an addiction (44% vs. 22%).

Most had ideas about how to help someone, though the ideas varied and ranged from seeking inpatient treatment to Alcoholics Anonymous. Just 7% said they did not think recovery from a mental illness or addiction is possible.

Does infection raise risk of dementia?

Dementia is among the most feared health crises. A new study in JAMA Network Open says that inflammation from infection may be responsible for an increased risk of neurocognitive decline. While inflammation has been suspected in the past, the new research homes in on the type of infection.

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The study, led by Janet Janbek, of Copenhagen University Hospital–Rigshospitalet, and her and colleagues looked at a massive amount of data collected over 40 years from 1978 to 2018 and included almost 1.5 million adults from Danish national population registries. None of them had been diagnosed with dementia at the beginning of the study, which found a nearly 1.5-fold increase in risk among those who had inflammation from infection, while a link to inflammation from autoimmune diseases was less clear.

The individuals were born from 1928 to 1953, were alive and living in Denmark on Jan. 1, 1978, and were included in the study upon their 65th birthday. None of the individuals had a record of diagnosed dementia upon enrollment.

According to a Psychiatric News Alert from the American Psychiatric Association, “Over the study period, dementia occurred about 1.5 times as often in people who had infections than in people without infections. Furthermore, the more infections people had, the higher the rate of dementia. In contrast, dementia occurred in people who had autoimmune diseases at about the same rate (1.04 times) as people without autoimmune diseases; being diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases did not appear to increase the rate of dementia.”

The researchers couldn’t explain the mechanism or reach conclusions about the role of inflammation based on their work, but they say it could “point toward a role for infection-specific processes, rather than generic systemic inflammation.”

Can teledentistry make care more available?

Telemedicine has made big inroads for mental health consultations and general medicine —especially since COVID made in-person consultations harder and more risky. But what’s the role of telemedicine consultations online for dentistry?

The University of Albany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies in its School of Public Health found that the pandemic also prompted a “dramatic increase” in teledentistry. And the role online consultations play is not likely to diminish in the future, the researchers say.

A recent report by the center found that teledentistry is effective for “triage, consultation, diagnosis, referral, follow-up and health education,” covering aspects of dentistry that don’t require in-person care.

But state regulations may present barriers, the report said. In background material, the university reported that “state-level variability in teledentistry regulation often limits the ability of safety-net clinicians to provide virtual oral health care.” The barriers include the inability to get Medicaid reimbursement to treat low-income patients in a way that may be more accessible than having to take time off work or arrange transportation to appointments, for instance. The study said just 14 states paid for Medicaid patients to use teledentistry after the COVID-19 public health emergency expired in May.

Other barriers include restrictions that say only dentists can provide teledentistry services. The report notes that some services could be provided by dental hygienists.