Link between Alzheimer’s and gum disease

March 31st, 2016

In the UK there are around half a million people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Much research into the condition is in progress, as scientists to look for factors that contribute to, speed up and indeed protect us from the disease. No known cure is currently available. A recent study, which featured 59 people with mild to moderate dementia, posits that there may be a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s.

The study, which was published in PLOS ONE and was carried out by the University of Southampton and King’s College London, found that the response of the body to gum inflammation may speed up the decline of the brain. Inflammation within the body has long been suggested as a possible reason for a quicker cognitive decline.

The participants in the study were tested to establish what level of, if any, gum disease (periodontitis) they had. In participants where gum disease was present, the decline witnessed was at approximately six times the level of those patients who did not have gum disease. Peridontal bacteria have higher levels of antibodies which are associated with an increase in the level of inflammatory molecules in other parts of the body. Therefore when Alzheimer’s patients with gum disease chew on their teeth they are effectively releasing these bacteria into their bloodstream, causing inflammation within the body which speeds up their decline.

The study sample group was very small, and there are still questions to answer regarding cause and effect, however the findings of this study could be very valuable in the future consideration of treatment options for Alzheimer’s. If the study results are found to be true, there is the potential that cognitive decline as part of Alzheimer’s disease could be slowed by the treatment of gum disease. Better oral hygiene could help to slow the progression of the disease and enable patients to stay in better health, and keep their independence, for longer.

What is gum disease and how can I avoid it?

There are two main forms of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontal disease. Symptoms include inflammation of the gums, redness, soreness or even infection of the tissues around the teeth. When a patient has had gingivitis over the long period of time, it can transform into periodontal disease, and the bones anchoring the teeth are gradually worn away, eventually leading to tooth loss if not treated.

You can reduce your chances of developing gum disease by making sure you remove the plaque from your teeth every day. Do this by brushing twice a day and using interdental brushes and dental floss to clean in between your teeth. Ask your dentist to check your teeth over and give your advice about brushing in order to give yourself the best chance of keeping gum disease at bay.

For more information about the study, visit the BBC website to view the full article:

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