Can Good Oral Health Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?
There have been associations made between gum disease and the development of Alzheimer’s, a recent study has found further evidence to suggest that a link between the two conditions may be stronger than we think.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Society:
“More than 520,000 people in the UK have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease and this figure is set to rise. Dementia is the name for a set of symptoms that includes memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia develops when the brain is damaged by diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease that affects the brain. It is named after Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first described it.”
Researchers have found that one cause of such disease could be down to a bacterium called Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacterium that is known to cause chronic gum disease. The study has found evidence of this pathogen present in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s, the further evidence goes on to suggest that the origin of this bacteria could be in the gums of the patients.
The research paper, published in the journal Science Advances, titled; ‘Porphyromonas gingivalis in Alzheimer’s disease brains: Evidence for disease causation and treatment with small-molecule inhibitors’ explores how ‘proteases’ called gingipain from the bacterium found within the gums has made it into the brains of patients with Alzheimer’. Indeed, testing on mice has shown that the bacteria is able to travel to the brain directly from the mouth, the gingipain present in the bacterium then went on to destroy neurons in the brains of the mice. What’s more, the presence of gingipain also encouraged the production of amyloid beta, a substance that has long been associated with the production of amyloid plaques, another proven contributing factor to the development of Alzheimer’s.
It’s not yet clear how this bacteria transmits from the mouth to the brain, though the researchers believe that it could move upwards through the body by infecting immune system cells, or even by transferring itself through the cranial nerves that connect the jaw to the nervous system, and ultimately the brain.
According to the BBC, the study concludes that:
“The findings of this study offer evidence that Porphyromonas gingivalis and gingipains in the brain play a central role in the pathogenesis [development] of AD [Alzheimer’s disease], providing a new conceptual framework for disease treatment.”
Further implications of this will now go on to encourage the development of a new drug that will target the bacteria in the hope that it will be used to treat patients that have been diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
Should we be looking after our gums?
So, as the research paper suggests, it seems to onset of this bacteria could come from diseased gums, therefore it could be argued that good oral health can go on to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s. There’s more to it than this, but by preventing gum disease through good oral hygiene and self-care, you can reduce your risk of contracting an infection as a result of Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria.
We should note that this isn’t the first-time gum disease has been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the BBC:
“Last year, a Taiwanese study found that people with a 10-year or longer history of chronic periodontitis (CP, a type of gum disease) were 70% more likely than people without the condition to develop Alzheimer’s. Another study found people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who had gum disease experienced a quicker rate of cognitive decline compared with those without.”
We should note that gum disease is not the only cause of Alzheimer’s and that evidence spans across a spectrum of contributing factors. The Alzheimer’s Society have responded to this study to reaffirm that there is no single cause for this disease, with that in mind though, good oral health should always be a consideration, as good oral health is proven to assist the body in other functions too. By looking after our mouths, we are able to look after the rest of our bodies too.