Alzheimer’s disease linked to gum disease
Recent studies provide increasing evidence that untreated periodontal inflammation is linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, and that treating periodontitis may reduce or delay risk of this disease. It is the worst type of dementia, involving the most cognitive decline and memory loss, and there is no known cure.
Research has already found Porphyromonas gingivalis in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. P. gingivalis is a bacterium associated with chronic periodontitis. Researchers propose that when these bacteria reach the brain, an immune response is stimulated in the brain to release proteins that kill the bacteria, but also cause broader destruction.
Periodontal disease bacteria enter bloodstream, brain
A study by professor St John Crean and Dr Sim Singhrao at the University of Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry in England involved the examination of brain tissue samples of 10 deceased people with Alzheimer’s and 10 people without it.
It was found that bacteria found in chronic periodontal disease were present in the brains of four of the people with Alzheimer’s but in none of those without it. Researchers theorised that chronic periodontal disease bacteria, P. gingivalis, enter the bloodstream and brain, prompting an immune system response, which over time is thought to contribute to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Ability to self-maintain oral health can diminish with age
A key area that needs to be addressed is the challenge of self-maintenance of periodontal disease as people’s physical abilities diminish with age.
Recently, researchers at Harvard University conducted a study hypothesising that infections such as chronic periodontitis produce reactions that leave debris in the brain that later contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
The study found that in the subjects involved, bacteria passed through the blood-brain barrier, prompting the brain’s defence mechanism to release the “sticky” beta amyloid protein. This protein entrapped and killed the bacteria, but what remained was plaque, termed “the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.” This plaque signalled another brain defence mechanism — a release of a tangle of tau proteins that not only killed the plaque, but also the brain’s nerve cells, leading to more and more brain inflammation — and resulting in continued cognitive decline.
Vicious, repetitive cycle
The vicious, repetitive cycle leads to further and further destruction. However, not every brain was adversely affected because of the periodontal bacteria.
Researchers concluded that genetically, some brains can clean out the beta amyloid, get rid of the plaque and lower the risk for Alzheimer’s — but other brains can’t, correlating to a higher risk of getting the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease, with its cognitive decline and memory loss, is destructive not only to the patient, but also to all of the patient’s loved ones. Understanding and addressing periodontal vascularity may well be a major pathway toward better and longer functioning of the brain.
Perhaps going to the periodontist is the most economical and easiest pathway to slowing cognitive decline and onset of Alzheimer’s disease.