Alzheimer’s is a frightening disease. It destroys a person’s cognitive function, from an initial memory loss to a complete inability to care for oneself. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease can live for many years in various stages of the disease process. The toll it takes on both patients and caretakers is extreme. For this reason, through ongoing research, scientists and doctors are diligently searching for a cure.
A relatively new scientific study found a possible link between Alzheimer’s disease and gum disease. Is there a link between oral hygiene and Alzheimer’s? Maybe.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
We don’t really know. Scientists suspect that it may be multifactorial, or have many factors contributing to the development of the disease. They have found many correlations between other systemic diseases and the development of Alzheimer’s. This suggests that having one of these diseases or health problems puts you at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
Correlation does not mean that the other health problem actually causes Alzheimer’s disease. It simply means that studies show a high percentage of Alzheimer’s disease patients who also have health problems like hypertension (high blood pressure) or high cholesterol. Obviously not everyone with high blood pressure disease develops Alzheimer’s disease or any form of dementia at all.
However, since we do not know what does cause it, it is always a great idea to understand and eliminate all risk factors that we possibly can!
What is the Link between Alzheimer’s Disease and Periodontal Disease?
A recent study showed a potential link between Alzheimer’s and chronic gum disease. The study involved the investigation of both the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of living Alzheimer’s patients. First, the researchers found the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis (or P.g. for short) within the brain tissue samples. This bacteria is typically present in mouths with advanced periodontal disease, and not present in a healthy mouth.
This led researchers to investigate further by collecting samples of the cerebrospinal fluid of living Alzheimer’s disease patients. They found P.g. there, too.
They followed this with another experiment involving P.g. in which they created an oral infection in mice with otherwise healthy mouths. Those mice infected with P.g. developed plaques in their brains, consistent with those seen in Alzheimer’s disease patients’ brains.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is a progressive inflammatory disease of the supporting structures of the teeth caused by a bacterial infection. As bacteria in dental plaque collects on the teeth, the toxins they emit penetrates the surrounding gum tissues. The human body responds to these toxins with an inflammatory response.
When periodontal disease goes untreated, the number and type of bacteria grow and change. The bacterial makeup of dental plaque in a relatively healthy mouth is quite different from that of an unhealthy mouth. Porphyromonas gingivalis is one of the many types of dangerous bacteria present under the gums in severe gum disease.
How Could Good Oral Hygiene Help Reduce Risk for Alzheimer’s?
Since these recent studies seem to propose this link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, it makes sense to also explain the link between oral hygiene and gum disease. Gum disease is treatable and even preventable.
The primary cause of gum disease is always the buildup of dental plaque. Plaque is the soft, white-to-yellow colored sticky substance that collects on the teeth every single day. It begins accumulating as soon as you finish brushing and flossing your teeth (i.e. removing the plaque). Plaque buildup is a constant, ongoing process that requires a diligent battle on your part.
By consistently and effectively removing dental plaque from your teeth, you are removing the cause of gum disease. As you do this daily, you stop plaque buildup in its earliest stages, and you don’t even have P.g. in your mouth!
Concerned About Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s?
Maybe you already have gum disease, and now you’re really concerned. You can stop it from worsening by seeking out dental treatment. Our periodontal experts at Rockland Dental Specialists will help you stop gum disease and build new, healthy oral hygiene habits. Call today to schedule a consultation!