Dental Hygiene & Its Link to Alzheimer’s Disease

Jun 6, 2022

New Research Identifies a Link between Poor Dental Hygiene and Alzheimer’s Disease

During a recent check-up at our dentist, my partner engaged with our dental hygienist in a brief discussion about the importance of dental hygiene. During that conversation, she remarked that “your mouth is a window to your overall health.”

Fascinated, though not entirely surprised by this observation, he dug deeper – starting with the Mayo Clinic – who stated:

“Like other areas of the body, your mouth teems with bacteria – mostly harmless. But your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, and some of these bacteria can cause disease.”

The mouth, yours and mine, houses about 700 species of bacteria, including those that can cause periodontal (gum) disease. Most of us know that. But what many of us don’t know is something considerably more sinister.

Guard Against Gum Disease

The bacteria that cause gum disease are also associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, especially vascular dementia.

A recent analysis initiated by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) came to the following conclusions, reported recently in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease:

“Gum disease results from infection of the oral tissues holding teeth in place. Bleeding gums, loose teeth, and even tooth loss are the main effects of this disease. Bacteria and the inflammatory molecules they make can travel from infections in the mouth through the bloodstream to the brain. Previous lab studies have suggested that this is one mechanism influencing the cascade of events that leads to dementia, but large studies with people have not been conducted to confirm this relationship.”

The NIA Intramural Research Program examined whether gum disease and infections with oral bacteria were linked to dementia diagnoses and deaths. The study compared different age groups, with up to 26 years of follow-up, for more than 6,000 participants.

Stated the study: “The analysis revealed that older adults with signs of gum disease and mouth infections at baseline were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s during the study period. Among those 65 years or older, both Alzheimer’s diagnoses and deaths were associated with antibodies against the oral bacterium P. gingivalis, which can cluster with other bacteria such as Campylobacter rectus and Prevotella melaninogenica to further increase those risks.”

Healthy Teeth Means More than Just a Gleaming Smile

While these preliminary findings are not definitive and long-term follow-up for this study is needed, the initial findings are alarmingly conclusive: Oral infection precedes the diagnosis of dementia.

Oral infection is, of course, not the only cause of dementia – it is one of many. But the lesson is clear. Keep brushing. Keep flossing. Keep rinsing. Your cognitive health might depend on it more than you know.

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