Can Gum Disease Contribute to Alzheimer’s?

Modern education and technology mean that the world sees scientific advances every day. But every once in a while, a truly big piece of news comes along. That happened in January of 2019, when an article appeared in the journal Science Advances. The published research claimed a link between Alzheimer’s disease and certain bacteria responsible for gum disease.

Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

This is a major revelation for several reasons. First, the scientific community is far from fully understanding the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the chief cause of dementia, a disorder characterized by memory loss, trouble with reasoning and judgement, and personality changes. While Alzheimer’s is most common among the elderly, it can also affect young people.

Researchers have discovered that the brains of Alzheimer’s patients often show signs of atrophy or tissue degeneration. Amyloid plaques, or protein clumps, between nerve cells, are another hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, scientists have begun to note that Alzheimer’s patients often have signs associated with brain inflammation, and inflammation is the one of the body’s responses to invasion from harmful microorganisms.

A New Link

In the article mentioned above, researchers reported that they found certain bacteria in the brains of many Alzheimer’s patients. These bacteria, P. gingivalis, are more commonly associated with periodontal (gum) disease. However, P. gingivalis produces toxic substances called gingipains. Gingipains have been demonstrated to damage proteins in neurons or brain nerve cells.

So, the same bacteria that cause gum inflammation and other gum disease may migrate to the brain. There are some important notes, though. P. gingivalis is not responsible for all cases of gum disease, and it is very doubtful that these bacteria cause all instances of Alzheimer’s disease. Still, the association between P. gingivalis and Alzheimer’s disease raises some interesting possibilities, including the potential use of antibiotics in Alzheimer’s therapy.

Your Health

So what does all of this mean for you and your oral health? This discovery is simply another reason to keep your teeth and gums clean and pay close attention to your oral health. Dentists have known for years that gum disease can contribute to other health problems like diabetes and sepsis. These new revelations simply reinforce the important of good dental and periodontal care.