Link between gum disease and dementia grows - Number 18 Dental Notting Hill dentist blog

We’ve blogged about the possible link between Alzheimer’s and gum disease before. But another study has recently been making waves, potentially adding greater weight to the theory.

The BBC recently reported that in research published in Science Advances, scientists have drawn a link between neural diseases such as dementia and a strain of bacteria that plays a key role in gum disease.

The study involved analysing a range of samples from both living and deceased patients who had been diagnosed or suspected of having Alzheimer’s disease. The samples were taken from saliva, spinal fluid and brain tissue.

The results discovered the presence of a bacteria known as Porphyromonas gingivalis – which is associated with chronic forms of gum disease – in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

But how does gum disease bacteria make it to the brain?

It might sound strange to think of bacteria from the mouth migrating to the brain, but mice were used to discern that this is indeed what seems to happen.

However, scientists are not yet certain how the bacteria enters the brain. Some have even suggested it could be transported via the immune system or nerves found in the jaw and head.

Why is this bacteria bad news?

The presence of this bacteria is concerning because the toxic protein known as gingipain, which is produced by the Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria, was also acknowledged to kill off brain neurons, the connective pathways that send vital information throughout our bodies.

Not only that, the bacteria was also linked to a rise in a protein known as amyloid beta, which is found in certain plaques believed to be linked to the neural disease.

Is the link conclusive?

Despite the interest in this study, there is still no conclusive evidence that proves a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s.

Research into the field is still relatively small, and many have been quick to point out that there could be other factors at play.

For instance, some scientists have posited that those with Alzheimer’s are simply more at risk of neural infections, accounting for a higher level of this bacteria and its toxic secretions in the brain.

Meanwhile, others note that because those with Alzheimer’s struggle to carry out basic self-care, it could simply be that their cognitive decline makes them more likely to develop gum disease.

What can we take from this research?

In spite of the many questions that arise from this study, it will no doubt take its place as part of a growing body of research that draws a link between the two diseases.

What’s more, it offers up yet another important reason why we need to look after our teeth, no matter what our age. However, older people in particular are at risk and need to be encouraged to seek help for their dental health, as limited range of movement can lead to less thorough brushing and flossing. They are also more prone to gum recession, gum disease, mouth cancer and tooth loss.

If you need advice on how to help older relatives maintain their oral health, or you want to book a check-up with one of our Notting Hill dentists or dental hygienists, speak to us at Number 18 Dental today.

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