Helping Patients Make Healthy Choices… Please Call Us Today

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.