The Surprising Link Between Dental Health and Alzheimer’s Disease
Did you know that people with poor dental health are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease? Research has found that there is actually a correlation between chronic periodontitis (gum inflammation) and this cognitive disorder. At Prescott Dentistry, we think it’s important to be aware of the connection between dental health and Alzheimer’s disease, particularly because periodontitis can be easily prevented with good dental care.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder. It causes brain cells to waste away, and it gets worse over time. It is the most common form of dementia and is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s interferes with memory, thinking, language, and behavior. Despite the common misconception, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of getting older.
Periodontitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gums. It is caused by a buildup of bacteria due to poor oral hygiene. Gingivitis is the earliest stage of periodontitis. This stage is characterized by red, swollen gums that may bleed with brushing. As periodontitis progresses, the infection and resulting inflammation worsen. This causes the gums to recede and eventually be destroyed—tooth and bone loss will begin to occur. Periodontitis also causes an inflammatory response throughout the whole body.
Dental Health and Alzheimer’s Disease
While the exact cause of the correlation is unknown, current research shows that chronic inflammation of the gums is associated with brain inflammation. In fact, having periodontitis for at least 10 years puts you at a 70% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2017 Chang Shung Medical University study. The study concludes: “Our findings support the notion that infectious diseases associated with low-grade inflammation, such as chronic periodontitis, may play a substantial role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. These findings highlight the need to prevent progression of periodontal disease and promote healthcare services at the national level.”
Another study conducted in 2015 also found a correlation. This study hypothesizes that the inflammation in the gums leads to the presence of proinflammatory molecules in the bloodstream. These molecules, the study proposes, cross the blood-brain barrier and damage brain cells.
Scientists have known for some time that the bacteria that causes gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain. Harmful enzymes the bacteria excrete can destroy the nerve cells in the brain. Earlier this year a study in Norway examined 53 patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and discovered these enzymes in 96 percent of their brains. These Norwegian researchers have actually developed a drug that blocks the harmful enzymes, which may delay the development of Alzheimer’s. The drug is currently being tested and could be an important step in the treatment of the debilitating disease.
As a holistic dental practice, we believe strongly in the power of preventative medicine, especially when it comes to dental health and Alzheimer’s Disease. The good news is that you can easily prevent periodontitis with daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits with our practitioners here at Prescott Dentistry. Give us a call to schedule an appointment for your biannual cleaning!