Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in adults over 65 years of age. This progressive brain disorder can cause memory loss, deteriorated thinking and changes in behavior. It’s one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. A cure or a cause for the disease have yet to be discovered, but Alzheimer’s research studies are finding new insights every year.
In fact, a 2019 study published in the journal Science Advances suggests a potential link between Alzheimer’s and the bacteria that causes gum disease. The research confirmed that periodontal bacteria can travel from the mouth to the brain. Once there, the bacteria produce toxins that destroy neurons in the brain. Those toxins were found in the brain tissue, spinal fluid and saliva of people with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
These findings support other studies that suggest a link between periodontitis (the most severe form of gum disease) and Alzheimer’s disease. In 2018, a Taiwanese study found that people with a 10-year or longer history of chronic periodontitis 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.
However, it’s still unclear whether gum disease causes Alzheimer’s or if people with Alzheimer’s have poorer oral health because the condition makes them less able to take care of their teeth and gums. Researchers note that Alzheimer’s disease is a complex condition, and it is possible that a combination of factors determines whether or not someone will develop the disease.
In the meantime, there is reason to believe that avoiding periodontal disease, among other healthy lifestyle measures, may play a role in the development or progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Given that maintaining healthy teeth and gums is important for overall health anyway, paying extra attention to your oral health clearly has its benefits.
Start with reviewing your oral health habits at home. Make sure you are brushing twice a day for 2 minutes with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily. Eat healthy and nutritious foods, avoid tobacco and visit your dentist regularly for exams and cleanings. Following these simple steps will help prevent gum disease and keep your smile bright.