The link between Alzheimer’s and gum disease


People with poor oral hygiene or gum disease may be at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published by researchers at UCLan. Researchers have found that the bug responsible for gum disease could play a central role in the development of Alzheimer’s, and also increase the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s sufferers at a faster rate.

We asked Dr Alastair McGill, one of our Edinburgh dentists at the award-winning New Town Dental Care practice, to explain what this means - and what we can do about it.

“The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are still widely debated,” explains Dr Alastair. “Many scientists believe that the onset of Alzheimer’s is due to a combination of factors, including your genes and your lifestyle. However, new research is pointing to the possibility that Alzheimer’s may actually be caused by the same infection that triggers gingivitis (gum disease). The research has found that the proteins produced by the bacteria which causes gum disease, P. gingivalis, are present in higher concentrations in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, so it’s very possible that there is a solid link between the two.”

The research undertaken so far has examined brain tissue samples from patients with and without dementia. The results showed the presence of P. gingivalis bacteria in several of the patients with dementia, but no presence at all in the participants who didn’t have dementia.

 “The research has shown so far that gum disease is more common in Alzheimer’s sufferers, and is indicating that there may be an association between the two,” notes Dr Alastair. “However, this may be due to a number of factors, including chance, but also that those with memory loss and dementia might find dental hygiene more challenging, and may no longer remember or understand that the teeth and mouth need to be kept clean.”

Further research has also demonstrated that dementia sufferers who also had gum disease were experiencing a quicker decline in memory than those without. Gingivitis sufferers declined in cognitive ability six times faster than dementia sufferers without the additional illness, presenting that gum disease may be linked to the worsening of the Alzheimer’s condition.

“Alzheimer’s is an incredibly difficult condition to work with, and it’s very difficult to ascertain one specific cause for the development of the illness, so lots of research is required,” explains Dr Alastair. “This study shows an encouraging link between the disease and gingivitis, so we hope to see more results which can help scientists and dentists understand more about the possible associations. The research is continuing and it remains to be proven whether poor dental hygiene can lead to dementia in those who are currently healthy, which would of course have huge implications for the general population.

“It currently looks likely that there is also a link between the gum disease bacteria and the worsening of dementia, so the research will need to be ongoing in order to determine how strong a link this is and what the impact could be in the future. Whilst there are so many unknowns, dental advice remains the same: good oral health should be maintained at every stage of life. Brush teeth for two minutes, twice daily, and remember to floss every time you brush too. Stick to regular six-month dental check-ups, and if you are concerned about someone either with or showing signs of dementia, ask your dentist for advice on how to help them keep their teeth clean and their mouth healthy.”

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