According to a new study led by The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) School of Medicine and Dentistry, people who exhibit poor dental health or gum disease may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  This study, which was led by Professor St. John Crean and Dr. Sim Singhrao from UCLan, compared ten donated brain samples of patients with dementia to ten samples from patients without dementia.  The donated brain samples were provided by Brains for Dementia Research and the results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Link Between Alzheimer’s and Gum Disease

By comparing the brain samples, the researchers discovered that the brains of the dementia patients contained the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis which is associated with chronic gum disease.  These bacteria can reach the brain through the bloodstream which they easily enter through activities such as eating, chewing, or even tooth brushing.  Invasive dental treatment also greatly increases the risk P. gingivalis reaching the brain through the bloodstream.  The researchers believe that when these bacteria reach the brain, they may trigger an immune system response in susceptible brain cells to release chemicals that kill neurons.  This could cause symptoms that are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s such as deteriorating memory and confusion.

P. Gingavalis

The discovery of the presence of P. gingivalis in the brains of dementia patients compared to those without dementia is significant because its presence has not previously been documented in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.  This research also supports an increasing body of evidence that suggests there is a link between dementia and poor oral health.  This same research group ran a study in collaboration with the University of Florida using animal models which confirmed that P. gingivalis can make its way to the brain from the mouth when a periodontal disease is established.

According to Professor St. John Crean, “this new research indicates a possible association between gum disease and individuals who may be susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease, if exposed to the appropriate trigger.”  Yet he continues, “it remains to be proven whether poor dental hygiene can lead to dementia in healthy people, which obviously could have significant implications for the population as a whole. “

Reason Behind the Link Between Dental Health and Alzheimer’s

Dr. Sim Singhrao claims, “We are working on the theory that when the brain is repeatedly exposed to bacteria and/ or their debris from our gums, subsequent immune responses may lead to nerve cell death and possibly memory loss.  Thus, continued visits to dental hygiene professionals throughout one’s life may be more important than currently envisaged with inferences for health outside of the mouth only.”

The research team hopes to prove their theory by examining brain tissue from healthy donors and patients with dementia who also have available dental records.  They also hope to discover whether or not the P. gingivalis bacteria could be seen as a marker, via a blood test, that predicts the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

To keep both your mouth and brain healthy, schedule your routine check up with your dentist.