The global burden of Alzheimer’s disease has shown no signs of slowing, with health experts warning the health crisis will only worsen in coming years. Recent figures now indicate as many as 90 percent of people with dementia have not been diagnosed, stressing the importance of identifying all risk factors for the disease. One sign when brushing your teeth might be a red flag.
Mounting evidence indicates that the bacteria that causes gum disease may be a precursor for dementia.
The culprit behind gum disease is the bacteria P.Gingivalis, which can be eliminated by brushing teeth twice a day or flossing regularly.
If plaque starts to become mineralised, it will turn into tartar, which encourages the growth of more plaque towards the tooth roots.
This can still be removed using a commercial toothbrush – but in some cases may require assistance from a health professional.
READ MORE: Alzheimer’s disease: The aromatic herb that may halt cognitive decline – new study
Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is very common in the UK.
The UK’s National Health Service says most Britons have gum disease to some extent.
Occasional bleeding from the gums when brushing or flossing teeth do not definitively mean you have gum disease.
Other signs of gum disease include soreness around the gums and bad breath. If periodontitis progresses to more serious forms, it can lead to tooth loss and abscesses.
One study of 59 participants found that people who had gum disease saw their memory ability decline six times faster than those who did not.
Speaking of the results, doctor Doug Brown, said: “This study adds evidence to the idea that gum disease could potentially be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s, but we would need to see clinical trials to provide more solid evidence.
“If this is proven to be the case, better dental hygiene would offer a way to help slow the progression of dementia and enable people to remain independent for longer.”
The causal effect is thought to be down to gum disease boosting antibodies fending off bacteria, which in turn increase the number of inflammatory molecules around the body.
It is important to note, however, that not all cases of periodontitis result in Alzheimer’s.
The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care excellence advises seeing your dentist at intervals ranging from three months to two years – depending on the state of your teeth.
Evidence confirming the connection between the body’s inflammatory responses and cognitive decline suggests future treatment to treat one condition could also help the other.
The lead author of a 2017 study illustrating the link between periodontitis and rapid cognitive decline noted: “If there is a direct relationship between periodontitis and conducive decline, as this current study suggests, then treatment of gum disease might be a possible treatment option for Alzheimer’s.
“These are very interesting results which build on previous work we have done that shows that chronic inflammatory conditions have a detrimental effect on disease progressions in people with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Early characterisation of the disease has proven an essential tool to help healthcare providers guide patients through Alzheimer’s disease. This will prove more important in the coming years when cases are expected to grow sharply.