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Dr. Laura Matin, DDS
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Posted on 6/4/2019 by Dr. Laura Matin
Nearly half of all Americans age 30 and older have some form of gum disease. Gum disease, or periodontitis starts with a slimy film of bacteria. This plaque sticks to teeth and gums, and if not brushed or flossed away, it can burrow below the gumline, causing destruction to the supporting bone around the tooth.

Signs of gum disease include bleeding, red or swollen gums, areas where the gums seems separated from the teeth, bad breath,and loose teeth, which can cause changes in your bite. Left untreated periodontitis can cause tooth loss, painful chewing, and may increase the risk of various diseases. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through everyday activities such as eating, chewing and toothbrushing. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can be carried to other parts of the body. There are between 700 and 1,000 different types of bacteria that have been identified in human mouths. 30 organisms identified with gum disease.

People with poor oral hygiene or gum disease may be at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease according to a study published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire examined brain tissue samples donated by 10 patients without dementia and 10 patients with dementia. They found gum disease bacteria lipopolysaccharides in the sample from 4 people with dementia and none of the people who did not have dementia. Another study looked at dead and living patients with diagnosed Alzheimer’s and found bacteria associated with chronic gum disease in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, BBC news reported. Tests on mice confirmed the bacteria, Porphyromonas Gingipain destroyed brain neurons. The bacteria also boosted production of amyloid beta, a component of brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. Researchers hypothesized that when the bacteria reach the brain, they may trigger an immune response (like they do in the mouth), killing brain cells. This immune response could be one mechanism that leads to changes in the brain, which is typical in Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study, published in the Journal Science Advances, uncovered a potential link between P. Gingivalis, the bacteria associated with periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s. Researchers analyzed brain tissue, spinal fluid and saliva from Alzheimer’s patients- both living and deceased and found evidence of P Gingivalis. Gingipains, the toxic enzyme secreted by P. Gingivalis, were found in 96 % of the 53 brain tissue samples examined, with higher levels detected in those with the pathology and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, researchers from UCSF also noted that the presence of P. Gingivalis increased the production of amyloid beta, a component of the amyloid plaques whose accumulation contributes to Alzheimer’s. The study confirmed via animal testing that P. Gingivalis can travel from the mouth to the brain and that the related gingipains can destroy brain neurons.
Periodontists have long known that a healthy mouth contributes to a healthy body. These recent findings present strong evidence on how periodontal disease can impact the pathogenisis of Alzheimer’s disease and should highlight how crucial it is to manage periodontal disease, especially in older adults or individuals who have increased risk for dementia.
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