The Alzheimer’s–Oral Health Connection

Senior woman looking longingly out the window

More and more research is finding that there is a link between Alzheimer’s disease and oral health. In particular, this link is thought to be between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s. Periodontal disease is caused by a buildup of excess bacteria on the teeth. This bacteria is found in plaque and tartar and causes the gum to recede from the teeth and pockets to form. If left untreated, Periodontitis will eventually cause the teeth to loosen or fall out, or they may even need to be extracted.

Since Periodontitis is essentially an oral bacterial infection, it causes inflammation within the entire body. This inflammation puts the body under stress and can cause a number of problems, with Alzheimer’s being one of them. Also, the bacteria that cause Periodontitis can multiply and move through the bloodstream, attacking damaged areas of the body.

Normally in a healthy person, bacteria are quickly contained by the immune system. However, those with compromised immune systems may not be able to get rid of the bacteria as fast, or at all.  This means that the bacteria from Periodontitis are released during teeth brushing or flossing and they can then migrate through the bloodstream to the brain.

As individuals age, it becomes easier for microbes to cross the blood-brain barrier. This means that it becomes easier for bacteria to invade and destroy nerve tissue. This damage to the nerve tissue could cause Alzheimer symptoms or cognitive impairment and contribute to the overall development of the disease. Although research is still being done in this area, it is nevertheless important to treat Periodontitis.

The problem with Periodontitis, however, is that many individuals are affected by it and don’t even know it. Periodontitis does not always cause pain in the early stages and it can be easily ignored or written off as being nothing. Recognizing the symptoms of Periodontitis is an important step to seeking treatment. Signs of Periodontitis include: swollen or puffy gums, discolored gums, tender gums that bleed easily, receding gums or deep gum pockets, new spaces between teeth, pus between teeth, painful chewing, or changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.

To determine if you have Periodontitis, your dentist will perform an oral exam. Once a diagnosis of Periodontitis is made, it cannot be cured but it can be managed. Managing periodontitis is imperative to ensure that it does not continue to progress. In order to manage Periodontitis, your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic, but they will always clean your teeth. During this specialized cleaning, they will use special tools to remove excess plaque and tartar from your teeth. The bacteria causing Periodontitis reside within this plaque and tartar, and its removal will improve the cleanliness in your mouth. In order to maintain this, you will need to establish a treatment plan with your dentist and visit them regularly for a cleaning.

If you would like more information about the link between Alzheimer’s and oral health or if you believe you might have Periodontal disease, book a consultation with Dr. Zhao of Arc Dental in Houston today!

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