Gum Disease and Dementia: How Dental Cleanings May Prevent Alzheimer's disease

The Research

Did you know that the bacteria in your gums may possibly contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease?

Though it seems that these two topics should be unrelated, new studies have pointed to results that say otherwise. A recent study conducted in 2019 by Science Advances and funded by the pharmaceutical company Cortexyme, demonstrated a correlation between bacteria that cause gum disease and Alheimers. The study found bacteria from gingivitis (called P. Gingivalis) residing in the brains of patients with Alzheimers.

The same bacteria found in our gums when we don't sufficiently brush our teeth, may find its way up to our brain and could lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

This bacteria was also found to be associated with the production of amyloid proteins, a dangerous protein that causes neuroinflammation and ultimately neuron death, the mechanism of memory loss.

This is not the first study to find a correlation between gum disease and dementia. A study done by The Chung Shan Medical University Team in 2017 was compiled to determine if there was a relationship between periodontitis (an advanced form of gum disease) and an increased risk of Alzheimer 's.

Although there was no direct causation found, the Chung Shan Team noticed a trend that

"People over the age of 70 that had been living with periodontitis a decade or more were 70% more likely than people without periodontitis to develop Alzheimer’s.”

This study also noted that there was an increased amount of inflammation in the bodies of patients who suffered from chronic periodontitis (gum disease) and that inflammation in general may play a vital role in the development of Alzheimers.

The first study to discover a correlation between gum disease and Alzheimers was initiated by the University of Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2016. The school was provided donated brain samples from Brains for Dementia Research in order to expedite Alzheimer's research. They meticulously studied the brains of dementia patients compared to those without dementia, and noticed a significantly higher presence of the P. Gingivalis bacteria in the brains of patients with dementia.

Before this study, the only bacteria and viruses that had been correlated with dementia were those from the Herpes simplex Type 1 and other different strains of bacteria, therefore this was a significant discovery. Dr. Sim K. Singhrao, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire stated:

“We are working on the theory that when the brain is repeatedly exposed to bacteria and/or their debris from our gums, subsequent immune responses may lead to nerve cell death and possibly memory loss. Thus, continued visits to dental hygiene professionals throughout one’s life may be more important than currently envisaged with inferences for health outside of the mouth only.”

Finding P. Gingivalis in our blood stream may signal as a marker and risk factor for developing dementia in the future.

How to Prevent Gum Disease

So how can we prevent gum disease and the potentially dangerous bacteria that comes with it? It’s easy.

  • Brush your teeth for a minimum of two minutes (put on a timer!) twice a day. Do not forget to brush your gum line.
  • Floss twice a day as this eradicates all the stubborn bacteria and the plaque that are most responsible for gum disease.
  • Keep up with our yearly or quarterly hygiene cleanings. Your hygienist can detect the progression of gingivitis early on and ensure that it does not advance to periodontitis. If periodontitis is already present then it is especially important to keep the bacteria that has congregated underneath your gums to a minimum even though it is irreversible.
  • Invest in yourself and buy an electric toothbrush. Many studies have shown that electric toothbrushes remove more bacteria and plaque than manual toothbrushes.
  • Use natural mouthwash. Studies have also shown a lower incidence of gum disease with those who use mouthwash daily.
  • Stay away from smoking and tobacco. Smoking can expedite the progression of gum disease and eventually cause oral cancer.
  • Be more conscious about your sugar intake. Reducing sugar and drinking more fluids can dramatically reduce the sugar loving bacteria from forming.

If you notice that your gums have been consistently inflamed, swollen, painful, and bleeding please make an appointment with Dr. Gates or Dr. Kasali as soon as possible. Other signs of gum disease may be persistent bad breath, receding gums, and loose or separating teeth.

Although there has not been direct causation found between gum disease and Alzheimer's, studies are continuing to reveal that dental health and brain health are much more interconnected than we presume. In conclusion this data points to how paramount dental health’s role is in the picture of our overall quality of life