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Gum disease linked to faster cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients Numerous studies have shown that seniors with Alzheimer’s disease have an increased risk of developing gum disease (Periodontitis). Alzheimer’s patients are also at higher risk of health problems including infections, aspirations, loss of balance, malnutrition and dehydration. The main reason why Alzheimer’s patients are more vulnerable to gum disease is because of their reduced ability to take care of their own oral health and hygiene. If you lose your memory, you may simply forget to brush your teeth. But the arrow linking Alzheimer’s and gum disease may point in both directions. 

According to researchers at King’s College London and the University of Southampton, Alzheimer’s patients with gum disease declined at a rate six times faster than those without it. Professor Clive Holmes, senior researcher from the University of Southampton, said the results from their study (2016), showed that chronic inflammatory conditions, associated with gum disease, were detrimental to the progression of Alzheimer’s. “In just six months you could see the patients going downhill – it’s really quite scary.” When gum inflammation occurs, immune cells produce more antibodies.

This increases the overall levels of inflammation in the brain, which researchers have identified as the driving force behind the development of Alzheimer’s. And then there are the bacteria. In an earlier study (2013) from the University of Central Lancashire (UK), researchers identified a anaerobic bacterium called Porphyromonas gingivalis present in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients – but not in the brains of healthy patients without the disease. This bug is usually found in chronic oral infections. When chronic inflammation factors compromise the impermeable blood-brain barrier, this type of oral bacteria can enter and travel freely within the brain. Once the bacteria has set up inside your brain, further inflammatory responses occur, which contribute to the formation of beta-amyloid plaques between the brain’s nerve cells (neurons). As this insoluble plaque hardens and accumulates, it binds strongly to the nerve cells, and affects their relay signals and your overall brain function – in other words, your ability to remember. 

The findings of the study showed that if gum disease can be controlled, it may help to slow down the development and impact of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in patients. And what are the best ways to prevent gum disease? Brushing your teeth, flossing and using a mouthwash regularly are recommended. Carers also need to ensure that Alzheimer’s patients lead a healthy lifestyle, and follow a good oral health and hygiene routine. However, if you already have gum disease, everyday activities, such as eating and brushing your teeth, may actually inject harmful bacteria into your bloodstream towards other parts of your body – including your brain.

In this case, it is advisable to seek professional treatment, guidance and support from your dentist or hygienist. There needs to be more research undertaken to fully understand and pinpoint the links between poor oral health and Alzheimer’s disease. But by maintaining good hygiene and controlling gum disease, you are taking steps in the right direction for a healthy mind and body – now and in the future. Sources: University of Southampton. (2016, March 10).” Link between gum disease and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s.” PLOS/ONE University of Central Lancashire. (2013). “Determining the Presence of Periodontopathic Virulence Factors in Short-Term Postmortem Alzheimer’s Disease Brain Tissue”. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2013, DOI: 10.3233/JAD-121918.