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Recent studies uncovered evidence of a connection between oral health and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers must conduct larger studies to confirm this relationship, but periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s appear linked.
In 2020, the National Institute on Aging found that the bacteria associated with gum disease may also be associated with the development of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.1
Just as oral health is a known indicator of overall health, gum disease may indicate the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Two recent studies point to this connection.
A 2021 study found that older adults with more harmful than healthy bacteria in their gums are likelier to have evidence for amyloid beta in their cerebrospinal fluid.5 Amyloid beta is a key biomarker for whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s.
However, the study did not find an association between harmful gum bacteria and tau, another key biomarker for Alzheimer’s.
Meanwhile, a 2019 study found that the bacteria that causes gum disease (Porphyromonas gingivalis) can move from the mouth to the brain.6 Once in the brain, the bacteria can release enzymes that destroy nerve cells, possibly leading to memory loss and Alzheimer’s.
These findings suggest that gum disease can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. While more research is necessary to confirm this link, it only strengthens the case for taking care of oral health at all ages.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive decline of the nervous system, mostly in the brain, that leads to reduced cognitive function. People with Alzheimer’s slowly lose their ability to perform regular social and behavioral tasks over time.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:2
Due to the disease’s progressive nature, symptoms will worsen over time. People with advanced Alzheimer’s will need a caretaker to help them with daily life.
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not yet fully understood. Scientists suspect multiple factors may all play a role in developing Alzheimer’s.3
These factors include:
At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, doctors may prescribe certain medications to manage symptoms in the approximately 6.7 million Americans who have Alzheimer's Disease.4
The bacteria living in plaque produce toxins that penetrate the gum tissue, triggering inflammation. Like Alzheimer’s, gum disease is progressive, and more advanced stages can affect different parts of your mouth.
Gingivitis is mild gum disease. In its earliest stages, inflammation affects only the edge of the gum tissue where it meets the teeth.
Signs of early-stage gum disease include:
• A tendency to bleed
Gingivitis is reversible when addressed early by dental care and good oral hygiene.
Gum disease worsens to periodontitis when the inflammatory response destroys the ligaments and bones surrounding the teeth. Periodontal disease is often accompanied by a transition from acute to chronic inflammation.
The signs of chronic inflammation in your gums are easy to miss but might include:
As untreated, periodontal disease destroys the attachment between the bone and teeth, and deep pockets or crevices form. These pockets are perfect places for oral bacteria to continue to collect. They may deepen and even lead to lost teeth.
The early stages of gum disease are difficult to notice at first. Some people may not feel any pain from gingivitis. Others may notice:
Advanced gum disease (periodontitis) includes those same symptoms as well as:
A chronically unhealthy mouth affects the rest of the body. Scientists are actively researching the role of chronic inflammation in diseases besides Alzheimer’s, including:
So far, research shows that chronic gum disease can have a disastrous effect on the body.
Bacteria from gum disease can spread throughout the body, potentially worsening major health problems. To keep your whole body healthy, see your dentist regularly and practice good oral hygiene at home.
Treatment for early gum disease, or gingivitis, involves professional deep cleaning and good oral hygiene at home. Advanced stages of periodontitis will require more thorough treatment.
A periodontist, dentist, or registered dental hygienist may treat gum disease. The goal is to thoroughly clean the pockets surrounding the teeth and prevent damage to the surrounding bone.
If gum disease has not advanced, treatment may involve less invasive procedures, such as:
If you have advanced periodontitis, treatment may require surgery like:
The best way to prevent periodontal disease is to practice good oral hygiene at home and visit your dentist every six months.
Other tips for preventing gum disease are:
The beginning stages of gum disease often go unnoticed. Fortunately, dentists can catch gingivitis early with regular dental check-ups.
Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that, if untreated, can lead to oral health problems and tooth loss. Early research suggests that it may also play a role in developing or indicating the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease.
One study shows that harmful bacteria in the gums may be associated with a biomarker for Alzheimer’s found in the cerebrospinal fluid. Another indicates that bacteria can travel from the mouth to the brain and destroy nerve cells, potentially leading to Alzheimer’s.
More evidence is needed to determine the correlation between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, but we know that oral health is connected to overall health. Practice good oral hygiene at home and visit your dentist every six months to prevent gum disease.
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