Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that affects nearly six million people in the United States. Researchers have been trying for decades to gain a deeper understanding of this condition and what causes it, but most of their efforts have yielded little success. A recent breakthrough, however, is shedding light on the potential cause of Alzheimer’s. It may be directly related to gum disease. Let’s take a closer look at the research and what it may mean for you.
Alzheimer’s and Gum Disease
For many years, scientists have known about the correlation between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. They knew that many people with dementia had a specific type of bacteria in their brain, P. gingivalis, which is one of the main microbes involved in gum disease. However, they could not definitively say whether the bacteria led to Alzheimer’s or simply made the symptoms worse. Recent studies have offered some clarification on that point.
One study involving mice that were genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s found that P. gingivalis could actually cause Alzheimer’s-like brain inflammation. In a separate study that looked at samples of human brains that suffered from Alzheimer’s, almost all of the brains were found to have toxic enzymes in them that are related to P. gingivalis. When the scientists looked at non-Alzheimer’s brain samples, they found low levels of P. gingivalis and the accumulation of Alzheimer’s-related proteins. Since these proteins can accumulate in the brain for years before the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms, it seems possible that P. gingivalis may actually cause the disease rather than just be associated with it.
It remains unclear how the bacteria may lead to Alzheimer’s. It could be that it triggers the release of Alzheimer’s-related proteins, which then damage the brain. Or, it is possible that P. gingivalis attacks the brain directly. In either case, the research indicates that fighting P. gingivalis could prevent Alzheimer’s or even pave the way for finding a cure.
What It Means for You
The intimate link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s provides a compelling reason for everyone to pay careful attention to their oral health. Although some people are genetically predisposed to periodontal problems, there are things that everyone can due to reduce their risk of developing gum disease — and thereby perhaps decrease their risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s. For example, you should maintain excellent oral hygiene habits and regularly visit your dentist in Creve Coeur. A healthful diet, full of fibrous foods and antioxidants, can also help.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of your oral health! By protecting your gums, you may just preserve your smile and your mind.
About Feigenbaum Dental
Drs. James and Jenna Feigenbaum are a father-daughter dental team, both of whom grew up in the St. Louis area. They provide a range of services to families in the Creve Coeur community, including preventive care and periodontal therapy. To discover how they can help you protect your gum health and your overall wellness, contact our office at 314-567-1777.