Friday, July 6th, 2018
A recent study has revealed a possible link between poor dental health and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK compared the brains of 10 patients with dementia to 10 healthy brain samples. This study found that a type of bacteria that causes gum disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, was present in four of the brains affected with dementia.
Study Links Alzheimer’s with Gum Disease
Porphyromonas gingivalis is usually found in the mouth. Poor oral hygiene allows colonies of this type of bacteria to infect the gums, causing periodontal disease, in which the gum tissues that support the teeth become swollen and sore.
Oral Bacteria Can Spread Around the Body
These same oral bacteria can pass into the bloodstream through tiny abrasions that are opened up by brushing the teeth, flossing or chewing. The biggest source of contamination, however, is thought to be invasive dental surgery, which provides ample opportunity for bacteria in the mouth to pass into the bloodstream through open surgical sites. Having poor dental hygiene increases the risk of needing invasive treatments to remove decayed teeth or treat advanced gum disease.
Once the bacteria has passed into the bloodstream, it can easily travel around the body and infect other organs. Previous studies have investigated the possible role of Porphyromonas gingivalis in a diverse range of health conditions, including premature labor in pregnant women and cardiovascular disease.
Oral Bacteria in the Brain
The bloodstream can also transport oral bacteria to the brain. The latest research suggests that every time oral bacteria reach the brain, the immune system reacts by releasing chemicals that damage brain cells. This damage can lead to memory loss, one of the major symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Research into the potential link between Alzheimer’s disease and oral health is ongoing. Researchers say that they need to do more work to find out for sure whether the presence of bacteria in the brain is a cause or a consequence of advanced Alzheimer’s.
If the researchers manage to prove a link between the presence of Porphyromonas gingivalis in the bloodstream and the onset or aggravation of Alzheimer’s disease, it might be possible to develop a simple blood test to identify at-risk patients.