There are all these complex links that keep popping up between conditions in the body and oral health. They are very fascinating. Some of them may just be correlations, but others can have more of a cause and effect type relationship. One that I find very interesting is the research that’s currently being done to investigate the link between Alzheimer’s and oral health, specifically gum health.
Alzheimer’s Disease Causes
We know that Alzheimer’s is a very devastating disease. It’s actually the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. So, the more we can learn about it, the better.
It turns out that there are actually maybe 36 different causes that have been identified for Alzheimer’s or contributors to Alzheimer’s. We can’t link any one thing. Just as we talk about the potential link between Alzheimer’s and oral health, we don’t want to look at it as “the cause,” but maybe as a contributor. It may therefore be something that we want to understand and learn a little bit more about and dive into.
Inflammation in Alzheimer’s Disease
When we think about Alzheimer’s, it’s an inflammatory condition. It’s neuro-inflammation. There are these bundles, these tangles in the brain that are affected. This inflammation may originate in the brain. And in other cases it may come from somewhere else in the body and basically end up in the brain and contribute to Alzheimer’s. That’s where the link between Alzheimer’s and oral health comes in.
Alzheimer’s and Oral Health Links
How could Alzheimer’s be related to your oral health and specifically your gums? Well, gum disease is a very inflammatory disease. It involves bacteria, and those bacteria draw a reaction in the body. This is an inflammatory reaction from your immune system. As a result, you can actually measure inflammation throughout the body with a simple blood test. Since that’s the case, researchers started looking at these diseases that they know have an inflammatory nature, which many diseases do.
In the case of Alzheimer’s, just in the last few years, they’ve identified a specific mouth bacteria linked to Alzheimer’s called P. gingivalis. It comes from the gums (gingiva) and has been found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Now, what’s most interesting is that these bacteria have been found prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s as well as in Alzheimer’s patients. So, there’s a very interesting correlation that may actually be more than a correlation. Maybe it makes Alzheimer’s a little bit worse – we don’t know. But certainly, oral bacteria seem to have some implication in this terrible condition Alzheimer’s that is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Reducing Alzheimer’s Disease Risk
Anything we can do to help cut the risk of any other condition in the body, including Alzheimer’s, just by maintaining oral health, is worth doing. Obviously, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss, so that’s a problem all by itself. But what if we could reduce our risk of something as serious as Alzheimer’s just by controlling gum health? That’s definitely something we want to consider doing. But, how do we go about doing that?
Don’t Ignore Bleeding Gums
It’s not normal for gums to bleed. Sometimes, we see bleeding gums and we think that that’s normal. But it’s not normal. Healthy gums don’t bleed. If there’s bleeding in the gums, it means that there’s inflammation at some level. And it may be gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums or the gingiva. But remember, any time that there’s bleeding, that means that there’s an open doorway into your system. Bacteria are entering the bloodstream. Once they have that free pass, then they can move very quickly through the system.
Now, gum disease starts as gingivitis, but it carries on to become more serious, something called periodontitis or periodontal disease. This is where we often start to see bone loss to some degree around the teeth. Once the bone starts to deteriorate, then the bacteria are embedding deeper into the system. Inflammation levels tend to increase throughout the body as the condition increases as well. People with serious periodontitis may need to see a specialist dentist called a periodontist.
Takeaway: Alzheimer’s and oral health are related
Keeping healthy gums means keeping a healthy body. We will look at some other conditions in the weeks ahead. But Alzheimer’s is a big one and there’s a known link between Alzheimer’s and oral health. None of us need any additional risk as we navigate our journey through life. So, good oral health is something you don’t want to ignore.
At Express Dentist, we help patients find dentists that they can get care from. Whether you just need routine care or preventive care which is very significant as we have just looked at today. Or, maybe you need an emergency service of some kind or a specialty service that you’ve been considering. We have a network of trusted dentists that we can help you connect with. We are happy to do so, so please reach out and we will help you get set up with a dentist in your area. Remember, the mouth is where health begins. Be well.
About the author
Dr. Greg Grillo
Dr. Greg Grillo DDS studied at the University of Washington where he received a bachelors degree with Honors and later attended dental school on the same campus. Following school Dr. Greg served in the United States Navy as a dental officer. During this time he received advanced training in specialty areas of dentistry while also treating families of members of the military.
As well as sharing valuable information on dentistry and oral health, Dr. Greg remains a practicing dentist to this day. He works with families in the Okanogan Valley where he lives with his wife and three children.