The strongest evidence to date that poor dental hygiene is linked to brain degeneration has emerged from a recent study at the University of Florida Dental College. While cardiologists have long known that the bacteria that causes gingivitis (gum disease) may enter the blood stream adding to heart issues, there had been fewer studies to link Alzheimer’s or other dementia to oral health.
In this latest study, researchers examined samples from the brains of patients with and without dementia. The results showed that Lipopolysaccharide, a component of Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is an oral bacteria, was found in four out of 10 Alzheimer’s disease brain samples examined. This bacteria wasn’t found in any samples from the brains of people who didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease.
Oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream during chewing and while brushing and flossing. Dental procedures can also release the bacteria which may then travel to the brain. The researchers think the bacteria found in the brain can trigger immune system responses and pathological changes which could lead to brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. They are not yet ready to say that the effect is a certain cause of AD, but the evidence is mounting that there is a definite link.
The next step for the UF researchers is to study the causal association between major periodontal bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease in mouse models.
Take care of your teeth and gums
Gingivitis is common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 64 percent of seniors age 65 and over have moderate or severe periodontal disease. It’s recommended that people brush thoroughly twice a day, floss regularly and have their teeth professionally cleaned on a schedule deemed appropriate by their dentist. Whether or not a link to oral health and Alzheimer’s disease is eventually proven beyond any doubt, it’s well known that the bacteria found in diseased gums can cause other health problems, so good oral hygiene is necessary for overall health.
Considering that Alzheimer’s disease is thought to begin decades before symptoms appear, it would behoove young and middle aged adults to be scrupulous about their own oral health. This is not a high price to pay for ensuring that we’ve taken one more step that may help prevent the development of dementia in our older years.
University of Florida News (2013, October 3) Researchers find potential link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. Retrieved from http://news.ufl.edu/2013/10/03/mouth-memory/
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.