A New Study Links Gum Disease to Alzheimer's Disease

A new study has shown a correlation between gum disease and Alzheimer's disease. Find out more about this debilitating disease and it's link to dental health.

A New Study links gum disease to Alzheimer's

Photo by Laura Dahl on Flickr. 


Did you know that gum disease may lead to Alzheimer's disease?

There seems to be a common denominator in patients with Alzheimer's disease. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England discovered that the brains of patients who had dementia had a bacterium called Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bug usually associated with chronic periodontal disease.

The study involved analyzing ten brain samples from patients with dementia and ten brain samples from patients who had not had dementia. In all dementia brain samples, the bacterium was present, while the non-dementia brain samples did not contain the bacterium.

Porphyromonas gingivalis is usually found in oral cavities and is known to enter the bloodstream through a variety of daily activities, including chewing, eating, and brushing teeth. Researchers say that the bacterium is more likely to enter the bloodstream after invasive dental treatment and it is possible that it can enter the brain. When the bacterium enters the brain, it could potentially trigger immune system responses which can result in the release of excess chemicals that kill neurons. When this happens, symptoms could include confusion and deteriorating memory, both of which are typical symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Did you know that every 67 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a common progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle age or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. Everyone thinks Alzheimer's disease is a normal sign of aging, but it is not. It is a brain disease, and it occurs when neurons which produce the brain chemical or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and eventually die. This process results in a destruction of memory and other important mental functions. The direct symptoms (i.e., memory loss and declined language skills) depend on where in the brain the nerve cells die. For example, when the nerve cells in the hippocampus die, short-term memory failures occur, and when neurons in the cerebral cortex die, language skills and judgment decline.

Eventually, as brain cell connections, and the cells themselves, degenerate and die, people with Alzheimer's disease can become unable to perform the simplest tasks and need hospice care or be relocated to a nursing home where they can receive the proper care they need.

According to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, typical warning signs include:

  • Memory loss, especially of recent events, names, placement of objects, and other new information

  • Confusion about time and place

  • Struggling to complete familiar actions, such as brushing teeth or getting dressed

  • Trouble finding the appropriate words, completing sentences, and following directions and conversations

  • Poor judgment when making decisions

  • Changes in mood and personality, such as increased suspicion, rapid and persistent mood swings, withdrawal, and disinterest in usual activities

  • Difficulty with complex mental assignments, such as balancing a checkbook or other tasks involving numbers

While Alzheimer's can only be confirmed by an autopsy during which pathologists look for its characteristic plaques and tangles in brain tissue, it can now be diagnosed with up to 90 percent accuracy. It is important to note that memory loss is not always a clear indication of Alzheimer's. There are many other causes of memory problems, such as a vitamin deficiency, so a visit with a physician for laboratory testing and brain scans are critical to ensuring a proper diagnosis.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.3 million Americans had Alzheimer's disease in 2015, 5.1 million of which were age 65 or older. While the association also says that rates are expected to increase by 40 percent by 2025 and triple by 2050, new studies are suggesting that the rate of dementia and Alzheimer's disease is actually decreasing. But that still doesn't take away concerns associated with developing the disease.

Previous research suggested that the Herpes simplex virus type 1, the Herpes virus that causes cold sores, led to Alzheimer's, but now with the new research, researchers suggest there is a possible association between gum disease and Alzheimer's. Traditional thought is that the disease is genetic and that it is likely that it will carry from generation to generation.

More analysis of brain tissue samples is needed to nail down a concrete theory on the link. But if the link between gum disease and Alzheimer's disease is correct, that means prevention may be possible. We may have the power to prevent the degeneration through proper dental care. Imagine how simple it would be to live out our lives the way it was intended if prevention is actually possible.

With the significant number of patients with Alzheimer's, it's likely you have witnessed someone with the disease. How must it feel for the person experiencing it? Rick Phelps was diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer's at 57 years old. On his blog AgingCare.com, he shares what Alzheimer's is like from a patient's perspective. At first, it starts slowly, taking just a few short-term memories. Eventually, the disease takes all of your short-term memories and then begins taking the long-term memories, too.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are divided into two categories: cognitive, or intellectual, and psychiatric. Cognitive symptoms include:

  • Amnesia - memory loss or the inability to remember facts or events.

  • Aphasia - the inability to communicate effectively. Expressive aphasia is the loss of the ability to speak and write.

  • Apraxia - the inability to perform normal daily activities, such as brushing teeth or dressing, or job-related skills.

  • Agnosia - the inability to correctly interpret signals from the five senses. This can include the inability to appropriately perceive visceral, or internal, information such as a full bladder or chest pain.

Psychiatric symptoms include personality changes (i.e., irritability, apathy, withdrawal, and isolation), depression, hallucinations, and delusions. These symptoms can be very upsetting to the patient, resulting in fear, anxiety, paranoia, agitation, aggression, and verbal outbursts. Certain symptoms such as depression, however, can be treated with medications.

Hope may be on the way…

New research suggests there may be a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, one that can fully restore memory function. Australian researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland have come up with a non-invasive ultrasound technology that clears the brain of neurotoxic amyloid plaques. These plaques are the structures that are seen in Alzheimer's patients and are thought to be the cause of the memory loss.

The treatment involves oscillating sound waves that gently open up the blood-brain barrier, the layer that protects the brain against bacteria, and stimulate microglial cells to activate. These microglial cells respond to neuronal damage and remove the damaged cells by phagocytosis.

When mice received this treatment, seventy-five percent showed improved performance in three memory tasks: a maze, a test to get them to recognize new objects, and a test to get them to remember the places they should avoid.

The team plans to start trials with higher animal models such as sheep, and they hope to get human trials underway in 2017.

Despite the potential development in finding a cure for this debilitating disease, there is no estimated time frame for when it would be made available to the public as a treatment for suffering patients. And that is only if it is released as a viable treatment. Right now, that is a big "if". The best course of action right now, unfortunately, is attempting prevention.

If we remember what this disease is all about, perhaps we wouldn't be so eager to forego proper dental care. Perhaps we would be more proactive in preventing gum disease. Perhaps we would take our dental health more seriously. But it isn't just dementia we would be working hard to prevent; gum disease has been linked with other major health issues including heart disease, life-threatening pneumonia, pancreatic cancer, and diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half (over 47 percent) of the United States population aged 30 years and older have some level of periodontal disease, which is another name for gum disease. And nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of adults over age 65 have moderate to severe forms of periodontal disease. A mild case of periodontal disease is the inflammation of the gums. If left untreated, it can advance to the much more serious periodontal disease called periodontitis.

If it is time to schedule your next dental appointment, check out Carefree Dental's dental discount plan to see if you can save money on your dental services. You owe it to yourself to get your teeth and gums inspected and get yourself on the right track toward good dental health. If you are nervous about your visit, use our tips for finding a dentist who specializes in working with patients who experience dental anxiety [dental anxiety {link to article about dental anxiety}]. A dental visit is an important part of ensuring dental and general health and wellness.







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