It seems we all know (or know of) someone who has been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Whether it’s the afflicted individual or family member of someone with Alzheimer’s, we witness what a devastating disease this is to entire families.
The World Health Organization cites that about 36 million people globally are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The statistics in the U.S. are equally alarming.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the nation’s sixth leading cause of death. Here in the U.S., it affects over 5 million adults, with one in three older adults dying from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Almost two-thirds of Americans afflicted with Alzheimer’s are female.
While progress is being made in the prevention and treatment of other diseases, Alzheimer’s disease seems to be growing beyond belief. Between 2000 – 2015, the organization reports that “Deaths from heart disease have decreased 11 percent while deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 123 percent.” (https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures)
When it comes to tracking down a link to an Alzheimer’s cause, however, researchers are making progress. One surprising connection has revealed itself in the bacteria of periodontal (gum) disease. The bacteria found in gum disease has been correlated with degeneration of brain tissues.
The inflammatory bacteria of gum disease can weaken oral tissues so bacteria are able to enter the bloodstream. The infectious bacteria can reach the brain, causing a degeneration in brain tissue that appears similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
In one study, brain tissue samples from patients with and without dementia showed that a particular component of oral bacteria was found in four out of ten Alzheimer’s disease tissue samples. This same bacterial component was not found in any of the brain tissue samples of people who did not have Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers suspect that bacterial components found in the brain may activate a pathological change and immune system response, setting Alzheimer’s onset into motion. While the findings do not prove that oral bacteria causes Alzheimer’s disease, this chain reaction has shown an interesting path to Alzheimer’s that warrants closer studies.
The extensive research followed a previous study conducted on mice infected with specific periodontal bacteria. In this, researchers noted that oral bacteria of mice migrated to the brain, prompting further studies involving humans.
Bacteria in your mouth is far more destructive than many people realize. And, it affects a terribly high number of adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), nearly 97 percent of the adults have gingivitis, which is the initial stage of periodontal disease.
More common than the common cold, gingivitis is actually one of the most common of all diseases. An estimated 64 percent of adults age 65 and over have moderate or severe levels of periodontal disease.
Research has already found links between oral bacteria and heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes, arthritis, preterm babies, and more. Now, with the link between oral bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, the list has grown.
One reason for its prevalence may be due to its ability to begin silently. Early signs of gum disease, such as tender gums that bleed easily when brushing, are often ignored by many people.
However, gum disease is typically well underway once these symptoms appear. Additionally, you may notice your breath is bad on a frequent basis as well as sore and swollen gums with gums that turn red.
Gum disease only worsens without treatment. In addition to increasing one’s risk for many serious diseases, it is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss.
Obviously, your oral health plays an important role in your overall health. Yet, preventing gum disease requires minimal time and expense. Twice daily brushing (at least two minutes each time) and daily flossing will help keep oral bacteria to a minimum between your six-month dental exams and cleanings.
It is also important to know that a dry mouth allows oral bacteria to reproduce more rapidly. This is especially a problem for senior adults since oral dryness is part of the aging process. Smoking or taking medications that have a drying side effect to oral tissues can also increase the risk for bacterial growth.
Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible way to spend one’s final years, and just as bad when we watch (or care for) loved ones as they endure this sad disease. To lower your risk, keep your mouth as bacteria free as possible and be committed to regular dental check-ups.
If you are having symptoms of gum disease or have delayed dental visits, call our office at 219-987-5733 to schedule an examination.