Dental Care Basics

Can Poor Dental Health Cause Dementia?

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A new study found gum disease bacteria in the brain samples of people with dementia, furthering the research into the link between oral health and dementia.

by Dr. Burhenne

dementia and poor dental health

Here’s another reason why taking care of your mouth can help you square the life curve. We’ve long known about the connection between poor oral health and dementia.

How can this be?

When we skip flossing, plaque builds up in and around the gums. The body responds to this plaque build-up the same way it responds to all other foreign invaders, like flu bugs and viruses — it sends out the troops, in the form of the immune system.

When your immune system is constantly activated like this, things go wrong in the body. Long term inflammation cause premature aging and disease.

Agents from that inflammation somehow, perhaps via the bloodstream, cause the brain to respond in a way that can lead to dementia.

Poor dental health increased the likelihood of dementia by 30% to 40% over a 32-year period, regardless of cardiovascular status, according to a report at the International Society of Vascular Behavioral and Cognitive Disorders.

This latest study is the first to actually pinpoint bacteria from the mouth in the brains of people with dementia.

The study examined 10 brain samples of people with dementia and 10 brain samples of people without dementia. In four of the 10 brains, the gum disease bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis was present.

The theory is that when the brain is repeatedly exposed to bacteria and/or debris from gums, the immune response by the body that reacts to the diseased gums may lead to nerve cell death and possibly memory loss.

The connection isn’t fully understood and more research is required to understand if P. gingivalis will be able to be used as a marker, via a simple blood test, to predict the development of Alzheimer’s disease in at-risk people.

According to senior research fellow Dr. Sim Singhrao, PhD, further research will be needed to understand if the presence of these bacteria in the brain actually contributes to dementia, since it’s possible that later-stage Alzheimer’s is what causes reduced oral hygiene.

What to Do

Mark Burhenne DDS

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