Alzheimer’s Disease Linked To Gum Health

Jacintha Webster

A study published by PLos ONE has found a link between Alzheimer’s disease and oral hygiene. The study, jointly led by the University of Southampton and King’s College London, discovered that people with mild to moderate dementia declined much faster if they had a gum disease compared to those who did not.

The study followed 59 people for six months and found that decline into Alzheimer’s disease was six times faster if oral health was poor, according to the BBC. Dentist Dr. Mark Ide from the college where the tests were performed said he was “surprised” by the rate of decline. He said that as patients with gum disease chew, they are effectively giving themselves “mini-injections” of bacteria into their bloodstream with each bite.

“In just six months you could see the patients going downhill – it’s really quite scary.”

The Alzheimer’s Society said if the link was proven to be true, then good oral health may help slow dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This essentially means that gum disease could be controlled through regular brushing and mouthwash treatments.

Alzheimer's Disease
“Understand the Disease — Alzheimer’s.” [Photo by MCT/Getty Images]
Professor Clive Holmes, senior author from the University of Southampton, said keeping up with dental health could be an easy way to slow down the impact of Alzheimer’s disease.

“These are very interesting results which build on previous work we have done that shows that chronic inflammatory conditions have a detrimental effect on disease progression in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our study was small and lasted for six months so further trials need to be carried out to develop these results.

“However, if there is a direct relationship between periodontitis and cognitive decline, as this current study suggests, then treatment of gum disease might be a possible treatment option for Alzheimer’s.”

The findings of this study have been released a week after demands for more research of the link between bacteria, viruses, and Alzheimer’s disease. A group of 31 experts from around the world suggested that the condition could be caused by viruses such as herpes virus or chlamydia. Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial College London researchers say that viral and bacterial infections in the brain often show similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s disease.

Poor oral hygiene and gum disease both lead to the inflammation of gums as well as a build-up of bacteria. It is now thought that the body’s response to gum inflammation may be hastening the brain’s decline and bringing on Alzheimer’s disease.

Inflammation of the gums causes immune cells to swell and produce antibodies. Higher levels of antibodies are associated with an increase in levels of inflammatory molecules which in turn have been linked to greater rates of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers believe their findings from the study are evidence that inflammation in the brain is what drives Alzheimer’s disease. They are now looking to perform another case study with a larger group. The news that simply brushing your teeth could ward off Alzheimer’s disease has been met with excitement online.

Dr. Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer’s Society, is excited by the results but knows more research, including cause or effect, needs to be done.

“This small study suggests that people who have both Alzheimer’s and gum disease declined in memory and thinking more quickly than those who had better dental health. It’s unclear however, whether this is cause or effect – if the gum disease is triggering the faster decline of dementia, or vice versa.

“This study adds evidence to the idea that gum disease could potentially be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s, but we would need to see clinical trials to provide more solid evidence. If this is proven to be the case, better dental hygiene would offer a relatively straightforward way to help slow the progression of dementia and enable people to remain independent for longer.

“We know as dementia progresses, a person may lose the ability to clean their teeth, stop understanding that their teeth need to be kept clean, or lose interest in doing so. If this does happen then carers may need to help with this task – a dentist or hygienist can provide guidance and support on how to assist in cleaning another person’s teeth.”

[Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images]