2-word answers: Alzheimer’s and oral health

Q:

Is gum disease linked to Alzheimer’s? 

A:

It’s possible.

For years, research has shown a possible connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. In 2019, a study published in Science Advances found even stronger evidence to support the relationship. Since then, the topic has been making headlines across the country. However, before you start panic brushing, it’s important to set the facts straight and learn what the research really means for your health. 

Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain’s cells over time, causing loss of memory, language and thinking skills. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer's Association.

What did the new study find?

Researchers compared the brain tissue of people with and without Alzheimer’s disease. They found higher levels of a certain type of bacteria that causes gum disease, called Porphyromonas gingivalis, and the toxic enzyme it secretes, called gingipains, in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Once in the brain, gingipains can destroy brain neurons, a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s.

Should I be worried about Alzheimer’s if I have gum disease?

While the new study does support the idea that gum disease and oral health are linked, some experts are more cautious about the findings and note that they are not conclusive. Additional research is needed to understand if and how a cause-and-effect relationship exists. 

What should I do to protect myself?

More needs to be learned about the oral health-Alzheimer’s connection, but one thing remains true: Your gum health plays an important role in overall wellness. You can help fight off gum disease by brushing twice a day, flossing daily, visiting the dentist regularly and avoiding enemies like tobacco and sugary foods. Managing gum disease is especially important as you age or if you’re at an increased risk of dementia.

Keep in mind that oral health is just one piece of the Alzheimer’s puzzle. Poor oral health is among a host of potential risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including genetics, heart health, diabetes, hypertension, exercise and diet. 

Gum disease can creep up when the mouth is not cleaned properly. Bacteria left behind can cause a sticky plaque buildup on your teeth, which infects the tissues surrounding them.

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