With a growing number of studies looking at the association between gum disease and dementia, the findings of some early studies suggest that oral infections may be linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia later in life. While more research is needed, scientists do know that bacteria that enters through the mouth can make its way into the bloodstream and then travel to any area of the body, including the brain.
What the Research Says
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found the presence of the bacteria that cause gum disease in the brains of some people with Alzheimer's disease. In contrast, researchers did not find the bacteria in the brains of any of the study participants who did not have Alzheimer's disease. But since the study only looked at a small number of individuals, more research is needed, as it it not yet known whether Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria in the brain is a contributing factor to Alzheimer's disease.
Some researchers theorize that when oral pathogens reach the brain, a systemic inflammatory response occurs. Unfortunately, this inflammation can damage or destroy brain cells, which may eventually lead to dementia.
One study of elderly individuals found that those with advanced periodontal disease had elevated levels of interleukin-6 (a protein secreted by immune cells) in the blood. Researchers think IL-6 may have something to do with the formation of amyloid plaques in the Alzheimer's brain. Amyloid plaques are clumps of amyloid protein that accumulate in the brain. Too much of the protein can kill brain cells.
The problem is that damaged brain cells can't communicate with each other, which can affect a person's thinking and behavior. But by protecting your oral health, you may help prevent the changes in the brain that cause dementia – changes that, when they occur, often are permanent and can get worse over time.
Other Risk Factors
Bacteria from the mouth that reach the brain may not cause dementia directly, but may make a person more likely to develop dementia if heredity or other risk factors are present. Age, artherosclerosis, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, and being overweight are factors that increase the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Many of these also are risk factors for periodontal disease.
Healthy Dental Habits
Because poor dental health – particularly gum disease – may play a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, it's essential to place importance on good oral health. The time to develop healthy habits is now because even if your family history predisposes you to developing Alzheimer's disease, regular dental exams and living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent gum disease and may delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
For gum disease treatment, contact a dental office such as Neu Family Dental Center.