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Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Gum Disease Linked To Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Vincent Wan


Gum disease is now linked to Alzheimer’s disease.  With many associations between oral health and general health, there is no better reason to clean your teeth and gums.  Why not lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by making sure you don’t have gum disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is often thought of as the condition where you cannot remember anything including your loved ones.  Confusion and memory loss are the most common symptoms, but there is an overall decline in cognitive function.  There may be behavioural changes such as wandering around lost, difficulty with self care and feeling irritated and moody.  Psychological problems such as hallucinations, paranoia and depression are also common.

Gum disease is damage of the gums and underlying jaw bone by bacteria.  Damaging bacteria is found in plaque – a soft complex micro society of bacteria and their products that sticks to your teeth and under the gumline.  If plaque is not cleaned away it is hardened as mineral is incorporated into it from your saliva, forming tartar or calculus.  Calculus is very hard to clean away.  If plaque and calculus is not cleaned away, it can breakdown the gums and underlying bone, causing irreversible loss of both tissues.  This may result in pain, swelling, tooth loss and a difficulty eating.

Danish research has found that 70 year old patients with gum disease perform worse in cognitive function tests than those without gum disease.  This was not a study on Alzheimer’s disease but it did show a significant correlation between gum disease and the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study directly compared the brain tissue of patients with and without Alzheimer’s disease.  Certain gum disease bacteria was found in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer’s Disease but not in the brain tissue of those without the disease.  The also found in follow up research that these gum disease bacteria have the capability to move from the mouth to the brain by travelling along nerves which connect the teeth and the brain, as well as via the bloodstream.

More research needs to be done on the topic but there is already enough reason to try and avoid gum disease as it is itself very damaging.  Any further risk of medical problems such as Alzheimer’s disease should emphasize the issue even more.