As the body of research surrounding Alzheimer’s disease grows, a disturbing connection has been found between oral health and Alzheimer’s. According to researchers, gum disease or poor oral health may quadruple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future. This makes maintaining good oral health one of the few preventable risk factors for dementia.
Periodontal Disease and Inflammation
Periodontal disease or gum inflammation causes the gums to become inflamed, red, and tender. It’s considered a chronic but low-grade inflammatory disease. According to a study of health histories, activities, and education of more than 20,000 people, it appears that chronic gum disease and inflammation early in life can have serious consequences later. This inflammation may create a burden on the body and affect general health to make the brain more susceptible to the protein buildup that causes Alzheimer’s later.
Gingivitis Bacteria Can Infect the Brain
The connection between oral health and Alzheimer’s isn’t just related to chronic inflammation. Researchers have also found the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis in the brains of dementia patients.
P. gingivalis is one of many types of oral bacteria associated with the periodontal disease that’s normally found in oral cavities as a biofilm plaque on teeth. Gum disease can cause deep pockets to form in the gums that allows the bacteria and plaque to accumulate and multiply. The bacteria may then enter the bloodstream during eating, brushing teeth or during an invasive dental treatment. The blood-brain barrier is easier to cross with age, allowing the bacteria to invade the brain and destroy nerve tissue by activating the immune system.
Oral HSV-1 and Alzheimer’s
P. gingivalis isn’t the only type of oral infection that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The oral herpes simplex virus (HPV-1) may also play a role. About 70% of adults over 50 have HPV-1 virus although the virus usually remains latent until it’s activated by illness or stress. Once HPV-1 is activated, research shows it reduces the body’s ability to fight infections and increases the risk of periodontal infections.
There is also a strong link between HSV-1 and Alzheimer’s disease as the virus can cause protein deposits in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s, including “tangles” inside neurons and “plaques” between neurons. One study found that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease had twice as much of two strains of herpes viruses than people without Alzheimer’s.
Maintaining Great Oral Health
Oral health is important at every age. As research now shows, your oral health when you are young may even affect your general health decades from now. Seniors can also reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s by maintaining good oral hygiene to reduce the risk of advanced gum disease and infection.
Along with brushing your teeth at least twice a day, make sure you floss daily. If you neglect to floss, the plaque that causes gum disease and harbors P. gingivalis can damage the fibers that secure the gum tissue to the teeth, eventually leading to chronic inflammation and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Seniors with dentures still need to worry about gum disease and oral infections. Rinsing your mouth with salt water can help keep your gums clean. When you remove the dentures, use a soft toothbrush to brush your gums, cheeks, tongue, and the roof of your mouth to boost circulation in your oral tissues and reduce plaque buildup.
Schedule Your Appointment Today
The risk of Alzheimer’s disease is just another reason to stay on top of your oral health. Regular checkups with your dentist are an easy way to reduce plaque and the risk of gum disease. Contact Mountain View Dental today to schedule an appointment and discuss any concerns you may have about your oral health.