If you’ve ever visited our 1st In Smiles web page on gum disease, you’ve read that gum disease is linked to many medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, and respiratory infections. Studies show that gum disease may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, too. Is your health or the health of your loved one jeopardized?
September 21 marks the Alzheimer’s Association’s World Alzheimer’s Day. In honor of this awareness day, we’d like to talk about the link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, some oral health concerns for those who are living with Alzheimer’s now, and what you can do to lower your risk.
What Is Gum Disease?
Gum disease affects about half of all Americans. Some forms of gum disease are not very serious, while others can result in bone and tooth loss. Severe gum disease, as we mentioned, has been linked over and over again to all kinds of health conditions. The symptoms of gum disease are often absent or so mild that most people don’t even know they have it.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria buildup on your teeth, in between your teeth, and on your gums. Eventually, the bacteria works its way under your gums where you can’t reach to get rid of it. The bacteria causes inflammation (gingivitis), which may result in infection. Once your gums are infected, it can spread to the bone underneath. Receding gums plus deteriorating bone is a perfect equation for tooth loss. Research has also shown that bacteria from your mouth can leak into your bloodstream and cause infection and inflammation elsewhere.
Gum disease is most often caused by poor dental health. Not brushing or flossing regularly and skipping out on dentist visits lets the bacteria fester. Sugar, tobacco, and alcohol sitting on your teeth help the bacteria multiply. (See our recent blog post for more info on these risk factors.) However, genetics can also contribute to gum disease.
Does Research Support a Link Between Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s?
In recent years, researchers have found many links between gum disease and other problems in the body. One of these is Alzheimer’s.
A recent study from the UK compared the brains of those with Alzheimer’s and those without the disease. The researchers found Porphyromonas gingivalis only in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. This bacterium is associated with gum disease. Find out more about their studies on Medical News Today’s website: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264164.php
An earlier long-term study from New York University (2010) found
“the first long-term evidence that periodontal (gum) disease may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction associated with Alzheimer’s disease in healthy individuals as well as in those who already are cognitively impaired.”
The researchers took 20 years of data and found that the inflammation associated with gum disease may contribute to inflammation in the brain and Alzheimer’s. In fact, they found that people with gum inflammation were nine times as likely to score lower on adult IQ tests. Read more here: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/196804.php
These are just two recent studies that support this dangerous link between the two diseases.
What Are the Oral Complications of Those Living With Alzheimer’s?
Those who have Alzheimer’s have an increased risk of dental problems. One reason is their forgetfulness in maintaining good oral hygiene at home. Another is because of their increased risk of dry mouth.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s have trouble remembering things, even day-to-day routines. This extends to oral hygiene. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, make sure they have help brushing their teeth and flossing. If they need to use the flossers with a handle, that’s OK. A mouth rinse may help them, too. Talk to Dr. Barfield or bring them into an appointment for advice. If they are living in an assisted-living home or have a caretaker, make sure they are receiving proper oral care.
If your loved one is on medication for Alzheimer’s, they may start to notice persistent dry mouth. This is a common side effect of Alzheimer’s medication. Bring them into our office so we can examine their mouth and provide recommendations for products that can resolve this problem.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself?
We can’t stress it enough – take care of your teeth! Brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing between teeth is the best preventive measure for gum disease.
If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, contact us today for an appointment! We will examine you thoroughly for signs of gum disease. If you don’t have gum disease, regular checkups can go a long way to prevent it from ever occurring. If you do, we can provide you with gum disease treatment to get rid of it. We can also recommend mouthrinses that can keep it at bay.