It’s estimated about 6 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. The causes are still not clearly understood, but new research has found a possible link between the debilitating condition and periodontal disease. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 50 percent of adults in the U.S. have some form of gum disease, and this number rises to 70 percent in those over 65 years of age. These statistics are a concern, of course, if there is indeed a link between the two; extra focus and care must be directed to the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease. 

Periodontal disease is caused by the replication of damaging bacteria in the oral cavity. These bacteria can cause inflammation and damage to the gum tissue and bone, resulting in loss of teeth. We know that these bacteria not only have an effect on the condition of the teeth; they can also get into the bloodstream and affect multiple areas of the body, including the heart and, now possibly, the brain. 

Multiple studies have been published that demonstrate a link between bacteria and Alzheimer’s. One of the main contributing bacteria to periodontal disease is Porphyromonas gingivalis. In one study, a toxin secreted by this bacteria called gingipains was identified and correlated to pathology in Alzheimer’s patients. 

Other markers of dementia were also noted to be higher in patients with gum disease.1 Recently published research evaluating MRIs in Alzheimer’s patients showed that periodontal treatment had a favorable effect on brain atrophy in these patients.2 That is good news, and the results of the study suggest that targeting and treating gum disease, specifically P. gingivalis, may have a beneficial effect on the prevention and progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

This new research adds to the long list of benefits of having a healthy mouth. Of course, the easiest way to help control gum disease is with daily flossing and consistent checkups with your dentist. Other tools, like a water pick, can also help eliminate the bacteria that cause gum disease. 

So, if it has been a while since you’ve been to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning, now is a good time to get back into regular care to ensure you are doing your best to keep your gums – and your brain – healthy!

Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

References: 1) Dominy, Lynch, et al. Porphyromonas gingivalis in Alzheimer’s disease brains: Evidence for disease causation and treatment with small-molecule inhibitors. (Science Advances, Jan 23, 2019: Vol. 5, no.1; 2) Schwahn, Frenzel, et al. Effect of periodontal treatment on preclinical Alzheimer’s disease-Results of a trial emulation approach. Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. (PubMed May 29, 2021)

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