Gum Disease Can Play a Role in Alzheimer’s Disease
Add gum disease to the list of risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have found that people with gum disease for a decade or more have a 70 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than people with healthy gums. Understanding the connection between oral health and Alzheimer’s disease can help you protect your overall health.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Gum disease is the result of sticky, bacteria-laden plaque buildup on the teeth. Plaque can be removed with daily brushing and flossing, but if left untreated, plaque hardens into a brown substance along the gum line called tartar. Plaque and tartar irritate the gums, causing gingivitis, the mildest form of gum disease.
Ignoring tartar buildup allows pockets to form between your gums and teeth. These pockets fill with more bacteria, plaque, and tartar, eventually progressing to periodontitis, the most severe form of gum disease. Without help from a dentist, tooth loss may occur.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
In patients with this condition, connections between brain cells—and the cells themselves—slowly degenerate and die. Eventually, memory loss, confusion, and other cognitive difficulties set in. Multiple factors contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, including genetics, diet, environment, and more.
What’s the Connection between Your Gums and Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists have long suspected that microbial infections of various kinds play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. In a privately sponsored 2019 study, bacteria associated with gum disease were discovered in the brains of living and deceased Alzheimer’s patients.
Testing on mice confirmed that the bacteria in question—Porphyromonas gingivalis—can migrate from the mouth to the brain. Once there, the bacteria secrete a toxic protein that destroys brain neurons. The bacteria was also shown to boost the production of amyloid-beta, a component of brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
While these findings may sound frightening, further studies on mice have led to the discovery of drugs that block toxic protein production and stop the brain degeneration associated with gum disease bacteria. These additional findings could provide new ways to treat Alzheimer’s disease, which currently has no cure.
Your Gums Affect Other Aspects of Your Health
The link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease is certainly alarming, but it’s not the only connection gum disease has with your overall health. Having gum disease may also increase your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, rheumatoid arthritis, and pregnancy complications.
It’s clear that if your teeth and gums are compromised, the rest of your body may be at risk. That’s why it’s critical to brush and floss daily, avoid sugary drinks and snacks, and schedule regular dentist visits.
The dentistry services from West County Dental are the key to protecting your smile—and the rest of your body. We’ll clean your teeth, inspect your mouth for signs of gum disease, and provide personalized tips to preserve your oral health between visits. To request a dental visit with our St. Louis dentist, please call us at (314) 488-2921 or contact us online.
Helping Children with Autism during Dentist Visits
Many children feel overwhelmed at dentist visits, but there’s a whole different set of challenges for kids with autism. Autism spectrum disorder makes it difficult to sit still for long periods, especially in an unfamiliar setting. Children may also experience sensory overload from the bright lights, the sensation of tooth-cleaning devices, and the taste of treatment products. To top it all off, kids on the autism spectrum often lack the communication skills to understand what’s happening or express their feelings.
These combined factors can make dentist visits downright scary for a child with autism. If your son or daughter struggles to make it through dentist visits, these tips may help.
Setting the Appointment
- Choose a time of day when your child tends to be the calmest.
- Explain to the dentist that your child has autism and what behaviors you expect may arise during the visit.
- Request a private treatment room, if possible, to minimize distractions.
- Ask if you can bring your child early to tour the office and see what instruments the dentist will be using.
- Look up photos of the family dentist and other dental team members and explain who they are to your child.
- Watch social stories on YouTube about dental visits.
- Prepare something fun for your child once the appointment is over. Explain the reward in advance to help your child feel excited about going to the dentist.
- Pretend to be at the dentist while you’re at home. Use the couch or a recliner as a makeshift dentist’s chair.
- Have your child lie down and practice running through the instructions they will receive at the dentist—put your hands on your stomach, put your feet out straight, and open your mouth wide.
- Ask your child to hold still while you count their teeth, shine a flashlight in their mouth, and even tap their teeth with a rubber-tipped gum massager. Set a timer to help you gradually increase the time in the chair.
- Talk about X-rays with your child.
The team at West County Dental provides family dental care to patients of all ages and abilities. If you’re concerned about reserving a visit for your child with autism spectrum disorder, rest assured that we can accommodate your needs. Our goal is to ensure a pleasant visit for everyone! To learn more about our St. Louis dental services, please call us at (314) 488-2921 or contact us online.
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