Does Gum Disease Give You Alzheimer’s?
That is the question many people are asking after the publication of a recent scientific study. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that attacks the brain, leading to severe memory loss and change in the ability to think and carry out normal function. Most people experience the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in their 60’s or 70’s, but some people have early onset, which occurs much sooner in life. Regardless of when it occurs, it is heartbreaking for all affected by it.
For this reason, scientists are exploring every possible cause of this disease, making new discoveries every day. One of these discoveries, just published in January 2019, suggests a link between chronic gum disease (periodontitis) and Alzheimer’s disease.
Important Things to Understand about Scientific Research
In our current state of technology and instant news, findings of interesting or groundbreaking studies make headlines almost immediately. Because of our media’s love of sensationalism, these headlines can make claims that the research itself does not necessarily support. It is important to listen to these news reports with a skeptical ear.
Here are a few important things you must understand about research studies.
- A single study does not prove anything.
In order for a new finding to be accepted by the medical and/or scientific community, it must be repeatable, showing the same results every time. Other scientists should be able to duplicate the experiment and draw the same conclusions.
- Correlation is not the same as causation.
Just because a study finds a correlation between two conditions does not prove that one causes the other. People often draw false conclusions based on correlation. For instance, you might correctly claim that over 90% of people who have root canal treatments live in houses. Correlation means that you can conclude that perhaps root canal treatments are only an affordable option for people who can afford to live in a home. Causation would claim that homelessness prevents root canals. See the difference?
What This Study Found
The study published in January 2019 found a specific bacteria in the brain tissue of deceased Alzheimer’s patients. The bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis (from here on denoted as P.g.) causes chronic periodontal disease. It can be present in the mouth of healthy people, but it typically lives in very unhealthy mouths. This study found P.g. in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients, somewhere it should not be.
This unusual finding led to further investigation. They then sampled the cerebrospinal fluid of living Alzheimer’s patients and found the P.g. bacteria there, too. Another stage of this researched involved creating an oral infection (gum disease) in healthy mice and then studying the changes in their brains. Those mice infected with P.g. showed an increased production of plaques in the brain, similar to those found in Alzheimer’s patients.
What It Could Mean
This could mean that having chronic gum disease increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The flipside is that you could actually lower your risk for Alzheimer’s by taking great care of your teeth and gums. Because P.g. is usually found only in unhealthy mouths with gum disease and not in healthy, disease-free mouths, keeping your gums healthy may keep your brain healthy!
This makes oral healthcare even more important than it already is. Decades of research show the link between gum disease and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and chronic inflammation. If those serious health conditions were not reason enough to keep your mouth healthy, then here is another to add to the list.
What Not to Do
Alzheimer’s disease is a very complex disease with multiple pathways that are not fully understood at this point. We cannot take this study and assume that P.g. is the only cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists will continue studying the disease to better understand its risk factors and causes.
What to Do
You cannot be healthy if you have an unhealthy mouth. The link between oral health and overall health is indisputable. While we cannot claim that keeping your teeth and gums healthy will prevent Alzheimer’s disease, we can claim that keeping your teeth and gums healthy will improve your length and quality of life.
How Can You Improve Your Oral Health?
There are many steps in taking great care of your mouth. It is important to know your unique risk factors and how to fight them. You can only accomplish this by consulting with your personal dentist. Following these general guidelines is a great start to a completely healthy mouth.
- Establish and maintain a consistent schedule of dental visits.
One of the most important weapons in the fight against gum disease is the professional teeth cleaning. The definition of “consistent” may vary based on each person’s individual needs and risks. Some people need professional teeth cleanings twice per year. Others with a higher risk for gum disease may need them four times per year. Follow the recommendation of your dentist and dental hygienist.
These professional teeth cleanings remove dangerous bacteria, like P.g., from the teeth and gums. They help reduce overall inflammation in the gums and give you a “clean slate”.
- Practice great oral hygiene at home . . . EVERY DAY.
Oral hygiene takes work. We know that it is tough to floss at the end of a long day. You must understand the value of great oral hygiene and the risks of neglecting it. Bacteria collects in the soft, clumpy buildup of plaque. Plaque is simple to remove with a toothbrush and floss. However, if not cleaned on a daily basis, plaque begins to mineralize, or harden, into tartar (also called calculus). You cannot remove tartar with a toothbrush and floss. It must be scraped away with sharp dental instruments.
This is why daily oral hygiene is so vital to good oral health. Your dental hygienist gives you a “clean slate” at each professional teeth cleaning. It is up to you to keep it clean between those visits.
More Questions about Gum Disease and Its Associated Health Risks?
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists. We can assess your specific risk areas and help guide you in ways to lower them.