Alzheimer’s and Gum Disease

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Alzheimer’s and Gum Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects mostly patients in their older years. It is a fatal disease that causes memory loss, confusion, difficulties completing familiar tasks, and issues with speaking and writing. It is a progressive disease that often begins in a patient’s 70s or 80s. It is even estimated that almost 50% of patients over the age of 85 already have Alzheimer’s disease. Due to its high incidence, scientists are trying to figure out what causes the disease, so that they can help patients and families before it is too late. One link that has been found is the one between Alzheimer’s and gum disease.

According to a recent publication in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, there may be a link between chronic gum disease and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a condition that leads to inflammation of the gums and all of the supporting structures of the teeth. This disease is often due to dental plaque build up and your own body’s immune response to the bacteria found in this plaque. Overtime, an your immune system will continue to try to break down this bacteria. If the plaque isn’t removed, then the overactive immune reaction can lead to inflammation of your gums and soft tissues in your mouth.

Chronic periodontal disease leads to chronic systemic inflammation in your mouth. While this inflammation may not be enough to actually cause you any discomfort, according to scientists, it may be enough to increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One thing that is known about the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease is that inflammation plays a big role.  There are two different mechanisms that have been proposed that like periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s. The first mechanism states that your immune system could produce pro-inflammatory cytokines while trying to fight the bacteria in your mouth. These pro-inflammatory cells can enter your systemic circulation and lead to widespread inflammation throughout your body and your brain. The inflammation in your brain could lead to activation of microglial cells, and in turn may lead to glial scaring and neuronal damage.

The second mechanism that has been proposed states that the bacteria inside of a person’s mouth may actually cross the blood brain barrier and enter the brain. If this occurs, then the immune system will produce inflammation in order to rid the brain of these bacteria. The overall immune response may lead to neuronal damage and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Inflammation may be the key that links periodontal disease to Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic inflammation from periodontal disease can lead to systemic inflammation, or lead to dental bacteria migrating to your bloodstream. Both of these occurrences lead to an increased immune response, which may lead to neuronal damage. Over time, chronic periodontal disease may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease due to this neuronal damage and overactive immune response.  Studies have shown that patients over the age of 70 and who had had periodontal disease for more than 10 years were around 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers. However, Alzheimer’s disease is also very prevalent in older adults and up to 50% of patients over the age of 85 could be diagnosed with this disease. While a potential link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease may exist, there still needs to be more research on the subject.

If you have periodontal disease or suffer from poor dental health, then it is vital to keep your regular appointments with your dentist. Regular dental checkups can help improve your dental health and reduce your chances of developing periodontal disease.  Between dental visits, its important to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss your teeth at least once per day. Make sure that you are brushing your teeth in the morning after eating breakfast, then in the evening right before going to sleep. Each brushing session should be for two minutes straight, and should include brushing your tongue as well. After brushing your teeth, floss your teeth at least once per day. Following this brushing and flossing regimen can help improve your dental health and keep dental plaque to a minimum.