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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Gum Disease Can Lead to Alzheimer's - REALLY?

This topic has really flown below my radar until a couple of weeks ago. I was having a lot of pain in one of my teeth and I couldn’t do anything to relieve it. I was referred to a periodontist for evaluation of a possible cracked tooth. Now this was the first time I ever had to go to a periodontist, so the experience was all new to me. I did have a cracked tooth and needed a bone graft to support the gum area again. All of this was due to inflammation – perhaps something I could have prevented. But I will do anything necessary to bring you the most up to date news about risk factors and dementia! Trust me – I went over and above on this one. At the same time, articles about gum disease and Alzheimer’s started popping up in my emails. This happens to me quite often when I decide to write about a topic. Strange – but it certainly helps my research.

Here Is What I Learned

“More than half of the U.S. population age 30 and older has some form of periodontal disease. Prevalence increases to 68 percent for those 65 and older.” (Dr. Richard Kao, DDS, PhD, president of the American Academy of Periodontology) Periodontitis is a chronic gum disease and leading cause of tooth loss. Previous studies have linked it with an increase in markers of inflammation throughout the body. Recent studies have linked gum disease to a decline in cognitive ability.

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago applied periodontal bacteria to the mouths of 10 mice for 22 weeks. They then compared the brain tissue of the experiment group to the control group of mice. The mice exposed to bacteria had more inflammation and fewer neurons still intact in their brains. By analyzing the proteins in the mice brain tissue, researchers discovered that the exposed mice had more beta-amyloid plaques – which is a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease.

Is There Causal Direction That Periodontitis Leads to Dementia?

In another study (of course!) investigators from Seoul National University in South Korea examined the relationship between chronic periodontitis and dementia. If periodontitis does lead to dementia – they offered three possible explanations:

· Bacteria from the infected gums enter the brain and cross over the blood-brain barrier. They could trigger inflammation and spur production of toxic proteins that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

· In a similar process, the gum infection could set up a “systemic inflammatory state” that releases agents that promote inflammation. These agents could also cross the blood-brain barrier to trigger inflammation in the brain tissue. His too can also contribute to toxic protein build-up.

· Finally, the third mechanism would occur through damage to the lining of blood vessels. Previous research showed that such damage has ties to an increase in toxic proteins in the brain.

There is enough collaborative evidence throughout these studies to indicate that good oral hygiene is critical to reduce risk factors associated with dementia. The brain and dental health are closely connected and all of us, especially seniors, should be diligent about brushing our teeth carefully to prevent the onset of periodontitis.

References: (February 7, 2018). How gum disease could lead to the development of

Alzheimer’s. Retrieved March 26, 2019 from

Paddock, C. (March 20, 2019). Study links severe gum disease to raised dementia risk. Retrieved

Woodruff, E. (October 10, 2018). To lower your dementia risk, experts recommend looking after

your teeth. Retrieved March 26, 2019 from

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