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Connecting Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s

Is there a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s? Can taking care of your gums and teeth also help protect your brain?  Studies show that there is a modest connection, but researchers are being cautiously optimistic before making conclusive statements.

As Alzheimer’s afflicts millions of our loved ones - more than 3 million US cases per year, many of us try to understand why and how this happens.  New research has found a link between gum disease, dementia and the bacterium found in both infected gums and brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients.

A study published last year in the journal Science Advances, found that people with chronic gum disease for 10 years or more had a 70 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s than those without gum disease.

What Is Alzheimer’s and Gum Disease?

Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative brain disease that accounts for 60-80 percent of all cases of dementia. This progressive disease is irreversible and slowly destroys memory and thinking skills over a period of 15-20 years with many contributing factors, including genetic predisposition, age and gender.  

Periodontitis is a gum infection that damages the soft tissue and the bone that supports the teeth. This common human disease usually starts as gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums.  With an increase of bacteria deposits on tooth surfaces due to plaque, gingivitis will worsen over time and in most cases will develop into full gum disease.  In cases of extreme periodontitis, P. gingivalis was the bacterium that was found in these infections that got into the blood stream which was also detected in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s study patients. Gingipains, which are toxic enzymes made by this bacterium, have also been studied for their potential role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers that have been examining brain tissue samples of people with and without dementia are finding that the P. gingivalis bacterium was triggering an immune system response eventually killing brain cells.  Dr. Crean, dean from the School of Medicine and Dentistry said, “This new research indicates a possible association between gum disease and individuals who may be susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease, if exposed to the appropriate trigger.” 

This is compelling information and may one day lead to a potential treatment, but researchers say that it is just too soon to report conclusive evidence.

Although there is no clear cut data that supports the link between Alzheimer’s and gum disease, it is a known fact, however, that poor oral hygiene can lead to a myriad of health issues.  According to Medical News Today in an effort to help protect brain health, medical doctors should encourage patients to practice oral hygiene and proper daily dental care.

Ways to Stay Healthy Through Prevention

Research on this subject is contradictory at best, but as more studies reveal the connection between the two diseases, a tried and true way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s is prevention.  Brushing and flossing daily, as well as regular dental check-ups, will not necessarily keep you from developing Alzheimer’s, but will certainly help your overall health.

If you are having noticeable inflammation, bleeding of the gums or loose teeth, seek professional help.  San Antonio Periodontics and Implants are here to help you choose the right treatment.  Contact us today to schedule an appointment.    

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