Taking care of your teeth and gums is even more important than you thought, new studies show a correlation between gum disease and dementia. Who knew that brushing your teeth and flossing could protect your brain?!
Background on Dementia
Research shows that keeping your gums healthy may prevent dementia. Dementia is a decline in mental capacity that makes remembering things and reasoning difficult, disrupting everyday life. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s.
Worldwide there are 36 million people living with dementia and the numbers are predicted to increase threefold by 2050. Dementia needs to gain attention globally as a health priority bringing awareness to the cause.
Reducing dementia risk factors can lessen the potential numbers of the disease increasing. Decreasing these risk factors by 20 percent can reduce the anticipated 2050 numbers of dementia by more than 15 percent. One of these main risk factors are chronic periodontitis.
What is Periodontitis
Periodontitis is a common human disease in which the gums and the structures that support the teeth become inflamed due to bacterial infection. It usually starts as gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums.
Although the human mouth is home to a wide range of bacteria, when conditions are right, the bacteria populations can increase dramatically to cause inflammation. This usually happens when bits of food and bacteria deposit on tooth surfaces to form plaque.
The bacterial colonies in the plaque grow and produce toxins that trigger inflammation responses in the gums. If untreated, the inflammation becomes persistent and destroys bone, causing tooth loss.
Link Between Dementia and Gum Disease
There have been several studies linking chronic periodontitis and dementia. The studies found that participants with chronic periodontitis had a significantly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those without it. Although, take note these studies were done in small sample sizes and did not consider forms of dementia outside of Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the studies was conducted at Seoul National University on 262,349 people aged 50 or older. This study revealed that participants who had chronic periodontitis had a 6 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those who didn’t. The risk was especially significant for those who developed Alzheimer’s disease. These studies only suggest a link between periodontitis and dementia, it cannot be proved that it’s caused by it.
These findings create new questions, such as could prediagnosed early stages of dementia cause a lapse in oral hygiene that lead to gum disease or vice-versa?
If it’s possible that periodontitis leads to dementia then there are three biological ways that it can come about.
- Bacteria from the infected gums could enter the bloodstream, crossing the blood-brain barrier into the brain. This could cause the brain to trigger tissue inflammation and stimulate the production of toxic proteins that Alzheimer’s Disease are known for.
- Another probable cause is the gum infection creating a systemic inflammatory states, releasing agents that promote inflammation. These agents could also cross the blood-brain barrier to trigger inflammation in brain tissue, which, if prolonged, can also contribute to toxic protein buildup.
- Damage to the lining of blood vessels has ties to an increase in toxic proteins in the brain.
They call for further research to look into whether the prevention and treatment of chronic periodontitis could reduce the risk of developing dementia. This should make us all think more seriously about optimizing our own oral hygiene practices and dental care, with the added potential of perhaps protecting our brain health as well.
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