Does dental hygiene prevent Alzheimer’s?
It is true that the human body is the sum of 80 individual organs, each of which specializes in a very specific function. But this does not mean that they are isolated. Our body needs to be understood as a whole, not as the sum of independent structures. In the human body, everything is connected .
In this sense, the health of one organ can also determine that of another organ that appears to be separate from it. In this way, we know that, for example, the health of our lungs can also determine the health of our blood, as it is these respiratory organs that provide oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide.
But what if we tell you that the mouth can determine the health of our brain? And not only that, but dental hygiene habits can prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s , a neurological pathology that is the leading cause of dementia in the world.
This is the conclusion of a study conducted by the University of Bergen in 2019, in which researchers claim that people with gingivitis have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than those with optimal oral hygiene. And in today’s article we will delve into this amazing relationship.
Gingivitis and Alzheimer’s: who is who?
As we have already introduced, the University of Bergen study found a link between gingivitis and Alzheimer’s disease With But, before we go into depth to see how an oral infection can increase the risk of suffering from such a frightening neurological pathology, we need to understand what each pathology is based on. Let’s get there.
What is gingivitis?
Let’s start with the oral disorder that seems to be associated with an increased risk in developing Alzheimer’s. Gingivitis is one of the most common infections of the mouth. In fact, it affects about 90% of the population, but it does not scare us. Most people have a mild form of the disease. The problem comes when this disorder progresses.
Either way, gingivitis consists of colonization by various gum bacteria , which are the part of the skin that surrounds the teeth at their base. The species we are interested in today, as it is the one that was analyzed in the study at the University of Bergen, is Porphyromonas gingivalis , which has structures to adhere to this gingival groove.
The population of this bacterium begins to grow in this gingival fossa, which is the region of contact between the gums and the tooth surface. Porphyromonas gingivalis begins to synthesize enzymatic compounds and feed on the gums, causing them to lose their pale color (and take on a reddish color) and the teeth begin to “bounce” as they are slowly losing their point of support .
In parallel, secondary symptoms appear such as bad breath, sensitivity to cold foods and drinks, tendency to bleed when brushing teeth , inflammation of the gums, etc. When this clinical picture appears, we are talking about the person suffering from gingivitis. But how can a gum infection increase the risk of Alzheimer’s? Now we come to this. But first, we need to understand what this neurological disease is.
What is Alzheimer’s?
We walk away from the mouth and travel to the brain to talk about one of the most frightening diseases in the world, as it is, without a doubt, one of the most horrible: it makes you lose memories. So let’s talk about Alzheimer’s, a disease that represents the leading cause of dementia in the world.
Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder characterized by a progressive deterioration of brain cells With This means, brain neurons gradually degenerate until they die. It is estimated that about 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia and that, of these, up to 70% may be due to Alzheimer’s.
Cases occur after the age of 65 and the pathology causes a slow but persistent loss of mental capacity, which causes behavioral, physical, and social skills to be lost to the point where the person can no longer live autonomously.
Over time and after several years of disease progression, Alzheimer’s causes severe memory impairment (First, short-term memory is lost and, finally, long-term memory) and, ultimately, when the brain is no longer able to maintain stable vital functions, the person ends up dying from neurological degeneration.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s With the only thing current medications can do is temporarily improve symptoms so that the person can maintain their independence for as long as possible, but there is no way to prevent progression of the disease.
And, moreover, prevention is not possible, as even the causes are not known. Although, as we shall see now, it is possible that we have discovered an important risk factor (not to say cause) for Alzheimer’s: the gingivitis we discussed earlier. So let’s see how the two disorders relate.
Why does gingivitis increase the risk of Alzheimer’s?
After defining them, it may seem impossible for them to be related. But apparently, they can be. This is what a study conducted in 2019 by the University of Bergen , Norway, and published in the journal Science Advances With You says you have free access to the article in our bibliographic references section.
What did these scientists discover? Well, in fact, gingivitis may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, with the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis being the main protagonist of the story. Or, rather, villain.
As we have said, 90% of people suffer from a more or less severe form of gingivitis, and 50% of them are estimated to suffer from it due to colonization of the gingival hole by Porphyromonas gingivalis With A it means that almost half of Is the world’s population at risk for Alzheimer’s from this bacterium? Not enough.
The increased risk does not come directly with gingivitis, but when it progresses to periodontitis With Periodontitis it is a serious complication of gingivitis. In fact, it is gingivitis taken to the extreme.
If you do nothing to stop the spread of Porphyromonas gingivalis In gingival sulcus (we neither brush our teeth nor go to the dentist because of the symptoms we mentioned earlier), the bacteria can continue to grow by feeding on the gums to the extent that they destroy the bone that supports the teeth.
Of course, this can cause the teeth to fall out and, being a much more serious infection, a scaling of the teeth should be done (a deeper but more painful brushing of the teeth than the conventional one), although even so, the damage generated to the gums and teeth are irreversible. But that’s not what we care about today. The really important thing here is that, when it comes to this periodontitis, there is a risk that bacteria will pass into the bloodstream.
“Porphyromonas gingivalis” can pass from the gums to the bloodstream and migrate to the brain.
And it is only in this capacity Porphyromonas gingivalis to pass into the bloodstream that lies in the relationship between gingivitis and Alzheimer’s With Technically, more than gingivitis, we must talk about periodontitis, but since this is a complication of gingivitis and, in addition, although it is low, there is also the risk of passing bacteria into the blood when we are still facing gingivitis, we are talking directly about is.
And when bacteria are in the bloodstream, it is free to travel to other vital organs, including, of course, the brain. And here is the key to everything. Here’s the trigger for the link between oral hygiene and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
“We have found evidence based on DNA analysis that the gingivitis-causing bacteria, Porphyromonas gingivalis , are capable of migrating from the mouth to the brain.”
This is what Piotr Mydel, one of the doctors who took part in the study at the University of Bergen, announced. And it is that if the bacteria reach the brain, it will produce the same degrading enzymes that it synthesized in the mouth to feed the gums, but in the nervous system, these will cause the death of neurons.
Namely, proteins synthesized by Porphyromonas gingivalis destroy brain cells , leading to memory loss and eventually the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Even so, we want to make it very clear that the presence of these toxic proteins is not the cause of Alzheimer’s. The advent of Porphyromonas gingivalis increases the risk, yes, but the most important thing is that it increases the rate of disease progression in people who, genetically, already have a greater susceptibility.
That is, gingivitis does not cause Alzheimer’s, but increases both the risk of suffering this neurological degeneration and the speed with which it progresses. And, of course, researchers have strong evidence to say this, because even though it has been talked about for years, for the first time we have found evidence based on DNA.
In the study, 53 people with Alzheimer’s were examined. And of these, 96% had the degrading enzymes Porphyromonas gingivalis in your brain With And this, beyond helping us understand the nature of Alzheimer’s, may be the key to advancing its treatment.
And thanks to this discovery, work is already underway to develop a drug that inhibits toxic bacterial proteins, slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and even reducing the risk of suffering from it.
Toxins produced by “Porphyromonas gingivalis” cause the death of neurons.
The University of Bergen study, published in January 2019, shows that gingivitis (especially its complication, periodontitis) can increase both the risk of Alzheimer’s and the rate at which neurological degeneration progresses .
And is it Porphyromonas gingivalis , the bacterium responsible for more than half of all gingivitis cases, capable of migrating into the bloodstream and traveling to the brain when the oral infection is seriously complicated, where the enzymes it synthesizes can cause destruction of neurons, something with a clear connection to Alzheimer.
This discovery not only shows us the importance of caring for our mouths and adopting healthy habits of oral hygiene, but it can open the door for us to advance in developing treatments for this very frightening neurological disease.