Dental Health and Alzheimer’s

I never thought I would be writing about dental prophylaxes, but relevant research relating dental prophylaxes to the prevention of Alzheimer’s requires me to do so. Hence this post. A very good friend, and healthymemory blog reader, sent me the link1 to a Yahoo Health Article on how taking care of our teeth may prevent Alzheimer’s/

According to the article, there is a rapidly growing body of evidence strongly linking periodontal disease to a greatly increased risk for Alzheimer’s and possibly other types of dementia. In the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, British scientists reported finding signs of gum-disease bacteria in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Byproducts of this bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivitis (P. gingivitas) were found in brain samples of four out of ten Alzheimer’s patients, but not in the samples from ten people of similar age without dementia. Although this sample is too small for statistical conclusions, it is suggestive.

P. gingivitis is commonly found in in people with chronic periodontal disease. It can enter the bloodstream through everyday activities such as eating, brushing, and invasive dental treatments. From there, it can potentially travel to the brain. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gums and bones supporting the teeth. It affects nearly 50% of American adults over age 30, and 70% of people age 65 or older.

In a study done in 2010 involving 152 people, researchers linked inflammed gums to greatly increased risk for cognitive impairment. The study compared mental function at ages 50 and 70 and found people with gum inflammation nine times more likely to score in the lowest category of mental function compared to those with little or no inflammation. This finding held true even when risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and tooth loss unrelated to gum disease were taken into account. Gum disease made the situation even worse for people who already had impaired cognitive function at age 50.

One theory explaining the link between oral bacteria and memory loss posits that these pathogens might generate inflammation in brain cells involved in Alzheimer’s, such as the glial cells. Dr, Bale, the medical director of the Heart Health Program at Grace Clinic in Lubbock, Texas says that”One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is activated glial cells, with high levels of inflammatory molecules that lead to nerve cell damage and destruction.”

Here are Dr. Bale’s recommendation for keeping your teeth, and likely your brain, in excellent health.

  • Brush at least twice a day, in the morning and at bedtime. He also recommends using an electric tooth brush for two minutes and fluoride toothpaste.

  • Be sure to brush the back and front of each tooth, along with your gums and tongue.

  • Floss at least once a day, being sure to wrap the floss around each tooth to remove debris and bacteria. An oral irrigator , such as Waterpik, can also be helpful for cleaning between the teeth.

  • Know the symptoms of gum disease and alert your dentist if you have any of them. The leading warning sign is bleeding when you brush or floss. Others include red, puffy, or tender gums, loose teeth. Puss between your gums and teeth, and a change in your bite (how your teeth fit together), any of which should warrant a quick dental checkup.

  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year for a checkup and professional cleaning. Even if you don’t have any symptoms of gum disease, the checkup should include measuring the pockets between your teeth, which is done painlessly with a dental probe. In the early stages gum disease may not cause any obvious symptoms.

  • Avoid smoking, which greatly increases risk for gum disease.

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