Once upon a time, people believed that oral health was not connected to anything else. Since that time, multiple studies have been done that prove otherwise. In fact, your oral health is linked to many different functions within your body.

Science has linked oral hygiene to a lot of systems, from mental health to fertility in both men and women! Digestive and immune systems are both heavily impacted by oral hygiene, and even your blood could become infected due to disorders in your teeth.

Could there be a link between poor oral hygiene and Alzheimer’s? As a dentist with over two decades of experience and a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, I am passionate about oral health for all patients. I have made it my mission to educate people regarding the best ways to take care of your loved ones when they receive an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis.

Because of personal experience, I understand exactly how difficult the diagnosis can be for the patient and family. I want to ease that anxiety as much as possible, which is why I have devoted extra time to studying the unique dental issues that handle Alzheimer’s diagnosis – from patiently instructing patients to educating and partnering with families.

One of the things I have studied along the way was the link between Alzheimer’s and poor oral hygiene. Although these things seem to deal with completely different parts of the body and its overall health, they are more closely linked than you might think!

Evidence links gingivitis with higher risk of Alzheimer’s

A study published in Science Advances has linked gingivitis with a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A bacterium known as Porphyromonas gingivalis is largely responsible for periodontitis and gum disease. This pathogen was also identified within the brain of many older adults with Alzheimer’s. Gingipains, which are a toxic part of the bacterium, were also discovered in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s and these levels correlated with pathology.

In plainer terms, scientists have discovered that a specific species of bacteria that causes gum disease is able to travel from your mouth to your brain. This bacteria releases enzymes in your brain that destroy your nerve cells and cause memory loss and, eventually, Alzheimer’s.

This 2019 study examined the brains of a group of deceased patients who had Alzheimer’s diagnoses and found high levels of this gingipain in nearly all of them. They also noted that these levels rise over time, which indicates a possible tipping point that begins the symptoms of dementia.

Additional study increases likelihood of link 

Another study links poor oral health with Alzheimer’s too. In this case, a link was found between gum inflammation and Alzheimer’s. The study comes out of New York University, and it offered evidence that inflammation in the gums may be linked to inflammation in the brain, as well as Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration.

This study examined over two decades of data, which all supported their hypothesis that periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease were linked. Their conclusion showed that gum inflammation increased the risk of lower brain function and this, in turn, led to a significantly elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Prevention through oral care

While poor oral hygiene is linked with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s, this problem has an easy solution. One of the ways you can prevent dementia that results from poor oral hygiene is to care for your mouth properly.

You don’t need a study to tell you that brushing your teeth regularly and properly will lead to great oral hygiene, but this one indicates that brushing your teeth can actually postpone Alzheimer’s. Brushing your teeth also helps your memory. When you brush and floss, you can slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s and prevent the likelihood that you receive it due to the bacteria in your gums.

Another great way to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you is by making regular appointments with your dentist. They will be able to properly clean your teeth, including periodontal cleanings that will remove any of the plaque and bacteria that has lodged itself underneath your gum line in areas that regular brushing can’t fix.

Submitted by Dr. Amanda Tavoularis (dentably.com)