September 21st marks World Alzheimer’s Day. This worthwhile campaign is aimed at raising awareness and challenging the common stigma that surrounds this form of dementia.
To mark the occasion, we wanted to discuss a topic that is likely to pique the interest of almost everyone – a possible connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s.
As of 2019, 850,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That’s 1 in every 14 of the population aged 65 and over. The current rate of prevalence suggests this figure will rise to more than 1.5 million dementia sufferers by 2040.
While there are multiple types of dementia, Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-70% of all dementia cases.
At the same time 69% of the over 65’s also have periodontitis (gum) disease, so is there a definitive connection?
While some experts attribute this statistic to having dementia, there is strong evidence that suggests otherwise. New research suggests that, poor oral hygiene could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Everyone knows that brushing keeps our smiles looking bright but could it hold the key to preventing something as complex as Alzheimer’s disease?
Sit tight as we explore the world of smiles and memories and the potential superpowers of your toothbrush and its role in protecting your brain health.
A Tale of Two Worlds – Your Mouth and Mind
Now, you’re probably wondering how something that is happening in the mouth can affect the health of the brain. How is that even possible?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that affects an individual’s memory, thinking, and behaviour. For many years, scientists have been working hard to understand what causes the condition, and recent studies have uncovered some interesting connections that may surprise you.
How Oral Bacteria Leads to Dementia
Periodontitis or gum disease is an infection that damages the soft tissue holding the teeth in place. The cause is usually inadequate brushing and flossing which results in plaque – a sticky film of bacteria – accumulating on the teeth and hardening into tartar. Symptoms include gums that appear swollen and red and easily bleed when biting into hard foods or when brushing. When treated in its early stages, significant health issues can be avoided.
Without treatment, a patient becomes susceptible to more serious dental issues such as gum recession or tooth loss. As a result, bacteria and the inflammatory molecules they cause can move through the bloodstream toward the brain, mirroring the characteristics of dementia.
Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s
An analysis led by NIA scientists in 2020 suggests that the same bacteria that cause gum disease are also associated with the development of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Samples of brain tissue taken from deceased Alzheimer’s patients uncovered the same bacteria that has been linked to chronic gum inflammation – Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis). Furthermore, P.gingivalis has also been found in the brain tissue of patients not yet diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, signalling that P.gingivalis may contribute to the development of cognitive disease.
Research also suggests that sticky plaque formed from the protein Beta Amyloid, a major hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, might be produced as a response to chronic gum infection.
Taking Control of Your Smile and Brain Health
While research is still ongoing there are compelling reasons to prioritise your oral health for the sake of your brain. Your trustworthy toothbrush could be more powerful than you think. By using it regularly, you’re not just fighting bad breath and cavities, you could also be protecting your brain health. Here are some ways you can turn your toothbrush into a weapon against Alzheimer’s.
- Brush like a pro – Brush your teeth gently but thoroughly twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste reaching all the nooks and crannies.
- Floss like a boss – Don’t forget to floss between your teeth and between the gumline or even use a waterpik.
- Visit your dentist – Regular check-ups and dental cleans are essential to keep your oral health in tip-top condition.
- Eat mouth and brain-friendly foods – While there is no magic pill to prevent cognitive decline, nutritionists recommend a healthy dietary pattern that includes fatty fish, green leafy vegetables, walnuts, and berries.
- Stay hydrated – Drinking water washes away leftover food particles and residue that harmful bacteria thrive on.
A smile that’s more than skin-deep
While no amount of brushing can guarantee you’ll never get Alzheimer’s, it’s a simple step that could potentially lower your risk. But it’s not just about your toothbrush. A healthy lifestyle, active social life, and keeping your mind engaged all have a role to play in the bigger picture of brain health.If you’re overdue a dental check-up, why not get in touch with the friendly team at Foxbury Dental? We provide exceptional patient-centered dental care for patients of all ages.