You are probably aware that the mouth is one of the “dirtiest” parts of the body, mostly because it plays host to millions of different kinds of bacteria. Most of these are harmless, and some are actually beneficial because it helps in the breakdown of the food that we eat. However, there are some bacteria that can cause harm when we have poor dental hygiene, generally manifesting in bad breath and tooth decay, and on occasion it carries more serious consequences.
A study by New York University researchers suggested in 2010 that gum inflammation may be implicated in Alzheimer’s disease to a certain degree. They concluded this after reviewing 20 years of data culled from 152 Danish subjects that participated in the Glostrop Aging Study, most of whom began the study in their 50s. The study ended in 1984 when all the subjects were 70 years old and above.
According to the researchers, the data indicated that in people over 70 there was a strong link between low cognitive function and gum disease. Those who had inflammation of the gums at the time of a digital symbol test were more likely to score lower than those without periodontal problems, even when the results were adjusted for factors such as smoking habits, tooth loss with no periodontal implications, and obesity.
University of Central Lancashire researchers followed up on these conclusions in 2013 by examining brain samples of 10 people who had Alzheimer’s disease and comparing them with brain samples of those without the condition. They found that there was a bacterium normally associated with chronic periodontal disease (Porphyromonas gingivalis) present in the brain samples of those with Alzheimer’s disease but not in those without. A further study in 2014 using mice found that two of the more common bacteria that caused gum disease were motile, meaning that they are capable of travelling, and were to be consistently found in the brain.
While these studies do not definitively show that gum disease-causing bacteria that travel to the brain may be causing Alzheimer’s disease, the results are certainly suggestive. At any rate, it does no harm to ensure good gum and oral health by having good dental hygiene and regular visits to your dentist.