Gum Disease: Is Alzheimer’s Disease Linked to Poor Periodontal Health?

Most people would not usually make a connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by inflammation of the central nervous system (CNS). Decreased brain function is the primary symptom of Alzheimer’s. The disease typically results in death. The main risk factor for the type of AD which comprises most cases, late onset AD (early onset is considered largely genetic), is old age.

Periodontitis, or gum disease, is another inflammatory disease. It shares some correlating risk factors with AD such as high blood pressure and diabetes. A 2015 article published in the North American Journal of Medical Studies, “Association between Periodontitis and Alzheimer’s Disease,” aims to, “throw a light on [the] possible enigmatic link between AD and periodontitis.”

How periodontitis might cause Alzheimer’s

In this study, two ways periodontitis might lead to AD are put forth.

Pro inflammatory response

The first is that the pro inflammatory response to periodontitis — in the form of cytokines — might “spurt out” through systematic circulation and increase the inflammatory burden in the CNS. When inflammation reaches the cerebral regions, it is known to trigger microglial cells responsible for neurological damage.

Microorganisms and neurological damage

The second theory states that microorganisms present in dental plaque seep into the blood stream and trigger an inflammatory response upon reaching the CNS, thus resulting in neurological damage much like the first path. The difference between the two being that in the first way it is the bodies response to the gum disease which eventually causes harm, whereas in the second way it is the material of the plaque itself doing the damage.

What is known and what can be done

Up unto this point there have been no animal studies which prove periodontitis causes AD. However, according to the North American Journal of Medical Studies article, “Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have revealed dementia in subjects with poor oral health.” Dementia is another neurodegenerative disease linked to inflammation in the CNS. Periodontitis has been proven to release inflammatory molecules into circulation. This is suspected to cause a variety of inflammatory conditions including AD. Given this information there are two reasonable courses of action.

Prevention

The first is to take the proper steps to prevent periodontitis. These include daily dental hygiene tasks such as consistent brushing, flossing, rinsing with antibacterial mouth wash, and drinking lots of water. Regular visits to the dentist every six months are also a good idea.

Healthy lifestyle

Since periodontitis itself is an inflammatory condition taking general measures against inflammation such as the management of stress and the introduction of foods with anti-inflammatory properties might also help. Turmeric, for example, is vaunted for its anti-inflammatory properties. Even if the one is not a direct cause of the other, periodontitis and AD coexist in a clump of correlated inflammatory conditions. All of which are best avoided through a healthy lifestyle.

Conclusion

Gum disease may lead to Alzheimer’s by releasing inflammatory compounds into the blood stream. Inflammation in the CNS is what directly causes AD, therefore they two are very possible linked in some cases. However, all sorts of inflammatory diseases are linked to each other and are risk factors for one another.

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