Potential Link Between Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a disease that America is anxious to research. No one wants to see their loved ones slip away, so there is an urgency in this research. There has been some fascinating development this year. Scientists have detected a connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is when the soft tissues in a patient’s mouth are inflamed and bleeding due to bacteria. When you eat, food particles hide in spaces between teeth. Bacteria can start growing due to these food particles. Over time, this bacteria can cause plaque buildup as well as inflammation of the gums. Growth of this bacteria can be combated with regular tooth brushing and flossing. Your dentist can also suggest changes to your oral hygiene routine to combat gum disease as well.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is a disease in which a patient progressively loses memory. Patients’ brains are deteriorating, especially the areas associated with learning. This disease is far more than typical memory problems associated with age. A person with Alzheimer’s disease loses the ability to recognize people who have been part of their lives for substantial amounts of time. They also lose cognitive abilities, like problem-solving. In addition to these disquieting symptoms, patients are unable to learn or re-learn information. Patients with advanced Alzheimer’s are unable to function and live independently.

So, what connection have they found between mouth and brain?

There have been several experiments to investigate a link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s. The bacteria that causes periodontal disease is called Porphyromonas Gingivalis (P. gingivalis). This bacteria produces an enzyme, called gingipains, that attacks cellular structures in the brain. These structures are called “neurons.” Over time, the destruction of these neurons leads to both memory loss and deterioration in cognitive abilities.
Researchers tested 53 brains that have suffered from Alzheimer’s and found gingipains in 96% of those brains. Furthermore, these gingipains were found in the spinal fluid of living patients. This is significant because the spine and brain together make up the central nervous system.
Researchers are not clear on whether there is a causal relationship between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. Currently, researchers do not think that one disease causes the other. Patients with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop gum disease, but having gum disease does not indicate that a person will have Alzheimer’s as well. The central cause of Alzheimer’s is still unclear, but this research is illuminating the connections between the deterioration of the brain and a person’s mouth.

Can preventing gum disease help prevent Alzheimer’s?

Because there is no clear causal relationship between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, taking care of oral health cannot guarantee that a patient will not develop Alzheimer’s. Still, taking care of your gums is always a good idea. Brush and floss regularly to fight off the bacteria that causes gum disease. You can enjoy good oral health. Meanwhile, researchers will continue to investigate the connections between gum disease and Alzheimer’s to discover the cause and develop a cure.