Most people understand the importance of healthy gums. After all, if you don’t have healthy gums, you run the risk of losing your teeth. And there are other dangers associated with gum disease that you may not be aware of, such as diabetes and heart disease. But recent research has shown a connection between periodontal disease and another malady that has become increasingly more common in our older population: Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies conducted over the past few years have found a correlation between poor gum health and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown that bacteria that builds up in a person’s mouth can enter the bloodstream through very simple acts like chewing food and brushing your teeth. Once that bacteria enters the bloodstream, it is easily carried to other areas in the body – including the brain.
Researchers believe that when harmful bacteria reach a person’s brain, they initiate a response from the immune system, destroying brain cells. This type of immune response, they believe, can result in changes in a person’s brain that are consistent with those of Alzheimer’s patients. This can include symptoms such as poor memory, confusion, and diminished decision-making skills.
Although more studies need to be done, researchers believe that those done thus far have demonstrated an association between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, particularly in those people who are at higher risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s in the first place. They also speculate that the bacteria present in patients with gum disease could worsen Alzheimer’s symptoms in patients already suffering from the disease. It’s important to note that researchers have more work to do, and studies conducted up to this point in time have been performed on relatively small groups of people. It’s difficult to determine, for example, what came first – bacteria that originated due to gum disease, or gum disease that originated due to the poor oral hygiene habits of Alzheimer’s patients. Still, the evidence collected so far is compelling.
As researchers continue to conduct studies to find out more about the connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, what they have found thus far should provide additional motivation for the rest of us to practice good oral hygiene habits. As if the other risk factors weren’t enough – dangers such as tooth loss, diabetes, heart disease and bone loss – the possible connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s should provide ample motivation to brush and floss every day.