By Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD
The Toothboss, www.toothboss.com
There’s not a senior out there who has not heard of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Alzheimer’s causes memory loss, cognitive decline, and, eventually, the loss of independence. While extensive research has been conducted to understand its origins, recent studies have revealed a surprising connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
In other words, how well you care for your teeth can have a direct correlation to whether or not you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The study, conducted by the Forsyth Institute and with the assistance of Boston University, is entitled, “Microglial cell response to experimental periodontal disease,” and was published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.
“We knew from one of our previous studies that inflammation associated with gum disease activates an inflammatory response in the brain,” said Dr. Alpdogan Kantarci, senior member of staff at Forsyth and a senior author of the study. “In this study, we were asking the question, can oral bacteria cause a change in the brain cells?”
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a common oral health issue caused by bacteria in dental plaque. It begins with inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and can progress to affect the tissues and bone supporting the teeth (periodontitis). Poor oral hygiene, smoking, genetic predisposition, and certain medical conditions are some of the factors contributing to the development of gum disease.
So how does this relate to Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits in the brain, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Inflammation is believed to be a critical driver of this process. When gum disease is present, the body’s immune system is activated to fight off the infection, leading to a continuous release of inflammatory molecules called cytokines. These cytokines can travel through the bloodstream and reach the brain, where they contribute to the development of neuroinflammation and the formation of amyloid plaques.
In addition to inflammation, researchers have also found evidence of oral bacteria directly affecting the brain. Studies using animal models have shown that specific bacteria associated with gum disease can enter the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, these bacteria trigger an immune response, leading to the production of amyloid beta, a protein central to Alzheimer’s pathology.
“Recognizing how oral bacteria causes neuroinflammation will help us to develop much more targeted strategies,” said Dr. Kantarci. “This study suggests that in order to prevent neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, it will be critical to control the oral inflammation associated with periodontal disease. The mouth is part of the body and if you don’t take care of oral inflammation and infection, you cannot really prevent systemic diseases, like Alzheimer’s, in a reproducible way.”
There is a silver lining to this finding. Recognizing the link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease opens up new possibilities for prevention and intervention. If you are maintaining good oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups, you are already doing what you can to prevent gum disease and minimizing its impact on your overall health.
If your home oral care needs improvement, you now have an added incentive. If you’re unsure about how you are brushing or flossing or caring for your teeth overall, please consult your dentist—especially if you are not getting regular checkups every six months. That’s something all seniors should be doing.
If you’re without coverage, The Toothboss offers a dental discount plan. You can call 781-335-0604 for more information or to make an appointment.
Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD is the owner of The Toothboss, 1121 Main Street, South Weymouth, MA. For more information, call 781-335-0604 or visit https://www.toothboss.com/.