The health of your gums affects more than just your mouth. Periodontal disease has been linked to other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and even an increased risk of pneumonia. In 2013, scientists at the University of Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry (UCLan) and several other universities and dental colleges conducted studies that supported previous findings of a potential link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s.
Findings from UCLan
UCLan scientists studied 10 postmortem brain samples from patients who had Alzheimer’s. These were compared to a control sample of the same number of postmortem samples from patients without Alzheimer’s. They found the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis in the brains of 4 of the Alzheimer’s patients. The P. gingivalis bacterium is a key contributor to periodontal disease (gum disease).
Past studies have also found bacteria associated with gum disease in postmortem samples from patients with Alzheimer’s. Scientists suggested that the bacteria could be a contributing factor of inflammation in the brain. If gum disease contributes to Alzheimer’s disease, further research could put scientists a step closer to finding ways to prevent or cure this debilitating disease.
The current focus of UCLan research is finding out whether or not P. gingivalis can be used as a predictor for at-risk patients. The hope is that if P. gingivalis is a factor in Alzheimer’s, a simple blood test would be able to pick up on it in at-risk patients. Discovering a way to predict Alzheimer’s before symptoms appear could have huge implications for Alzheimer’s research. It could also lead to more accurate ways to study the development of the disease and observe what factors prevent or slow its progress.
Are You at Risk of Alzheimer’s?
These studies have not conclusively been able to show that Alzeimer’s disease is caused or exacerbated by inflammatory bacteria from the mouth. In the relatively small sample studied, the oral hygiene habits of patients were not recorded. The Alzheimer’s patients that showed P. gingivalis in their tissue may have had more bacteria than patients without Alzheimer’s because of poor oral health habits throughout their whole lives, or even developed as a result of their diminishing abilities. Future research that studies dental hygiene habits of patients with and without Alzheimer’s may help to find whether this link is circumstantial, or if gum disease by itself can cause or contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Although it is not definitively linked to Alzheimer’s, periodontal disease is serious. If your gums are unhealthy, your teeth are at risk. Gum disease has also been tentatively linked to heart disease and difficulty controlling blood sugar levels. You can prevent gum disease by developing a consistent oral hygiene routine. Brushing and flossing twice a day and scheduling two dental cleanings a year can keep your gums healthy.
Dr. Lowrance offers Non-Surgical Periodontics using Dental Lasers, an effective method for restoring health to gum tissue. For more information about preserving your periodontal health, please call (361) 851-8274 or make an appointment with our us at Corpus Christi Center for Cosmetic Dentistry.