We all know how important it is to your daily life to maintain healthy teeth. But a growing body of literature is suggesting how oral health is related to full body health. Surprisingly, there may even be a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating brain disease that affects approximately 5.7 million Americans. It has grown to become the fifth leading cause of death in the world. Alzheimer’s dementia severely affects the brain, leading to cognitive impairment which makes it difficult for patients to perform basic tasks. This puts a heavy strain on patients’ lives as well as the lives of their family members and caretakers.
A new study, published by the U.S. pharmaceutical company Cortexyme, examined brain tissue samples from ten patients with dementia and ten patients without dementia. They found gum disease bacteria lipopolysaccharides (the surface of the bacterium) in the sample from four of the people with dementia and none of the people who did not have dementia. This bacteria can move from the mouth into the bloodstream, causing inflammation or disease. This is the process by which gingivitis contributes to heart disease.
While these early results suggest a linkage between gingivitis and Alzheimer’s, it is still a small sample size, and more research is needed to establish causality. These results could have come about by chance. It is also possible that people with Alzheimer’s disease have worse oral health, thus making Alzheimer’s the cause of the gum disease, rather than the other way around. Regardless, gingivitis can cause bad breath, tooth loss, pain while eating, and even heart disease. If you notice that you have swollen, puffy or dark red gums, or if you notice that you bleed while brushing or flossing, that is a sign that you work a little harder on your oral health. We recommend getting a professional cleaning twice a year in addition to regular brushing and flossing.