Alzheimer’s disease is a modern-day epidemic that has destroyed countless lives and families all across the globe. The condition is a progressive brain disorder that slowly, over time, decreases a person’s capacity for memory and thinking skills. In the final stages of the disease, even the most basic tasks become impossible.
Scientists and researchers have long been in a race to study the disease and find a cure. A new study showing a possible link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s is currently making the rounds.
Can gum disease cause Alzheimer’s? The latest study shows a correlation. Read on to learn how Alzheimer’s works, how gum disease is related, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.
The Basics of Alzheimer’s Disease
It may start with forgetting where you put your keys or whether or not you paid a bill. But in time, Alzheimer’s makes a person completely forget who they are and how to take care of themselves.
Dr. Alois Alzheimer first discovered the disease in 1906. Alzheimer was studying the brain tissue of a woman who had died of a mysterious mental illness that was characterized by erratic behavior, memory loss, and problems communicating. The doctor found that the woman’s brain tissue was littered with plaque and tangled fibers.
While the tangled fibers and plaques are the calling cards of Alzheimer’s, there are a few other major changes the brain undergoes when suffering from this condition.
The brain is made up of connected neurons, nerve cells that send messages to various parts of the body and ultimately help it function. In Alzheimer’s patients, it has been found that the connection between neurons disintegrates and no longer exists.
Generally, the disease starts in the hippocampus area of the brain, which is the part of the brain responsible for memories and moderating emotions. The disease spreads over time, and the brain shrinks significantly leading to a worsening of physical symptoms and eventually, death.
The length of time it takes for the disease to ravage a person’s brain depends upon their age when diagnosed. Younger individuals from 50 and up can live at least another ten years or more. Those of more advanced ages from 80 and up will see the disease take over more quickly. Sometimes in as few as three to four years from onset to death.
Alzheimer’s is generally first caught by members of the family and diagnosed by a primary care doctor. Once diagnosed, the patient is generally referred to a specialist.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Many of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are mundane and easy to miss or dismiss as a “senior moment.” However, over time patterns emerge, and either the patient or their family will take notice. Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
- Memory loss
- Loss of vision
- Difficulty problem solving
- Trouble with decision making
- Finding the words you want when speaking
These are all the usual symptoms of aging, however, when taken together and over a prolonged period of time, it can mean a more significant problem. More advanced symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
- Loss of communication skills
- Difficulty moving or walking
- Difficulty eating without assistance
- Increased need for sleep
When patients reach these more advanced stages of the disease, finding a caring nurse or a memory care home is the best way for families to manage the ravages of this disease.
Because it is a progressive disease that gets worse over a lengthy period of time, it’s important not to panic if you or a loved one is diagnosed. You have time to make plans and arrangements for long term care.
Gum Infections and the Issues They Cause
Gum infections are completely different, mostly non-threatening affliction. On their own, gum infections are mildly annoying, but if left untreated, they can yield a whole host of other issues.
A mild gum infection is called gingivitis. When you have gingivitis, your gums are the only area that is infected. Generally, you can tell if you have gingivitis based on whether or not you regularly bleed when brushing or flossing.
Other tell-tale symptoms include:
- Inflamed or swollen gums
- Overly sensitive teeth
- Receding gums
- Shifting teeth
- Bad breath (also known as halitosis)
If you notice any or all of these symptoms, there are two important steps to take. First, ensure that you are brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash at least twice a day. You should also invest in a tongue scraper and use that every time you brush.
When eating and drinking, many different types of bacteria are introduced to your mouth. If you’re not practicing good oral hygiene, the bacteria can build up and form plaque. Too much plaque accumulation can lead to gingivitis or its more sinister cousin, periodontitis.
Periodontitis is an infection that has moved on from your gums to the bones that hold your teeth in place. This disease can lead to tooth loss. Both gingivitis and periodontitis are preventable and treatable.
If you’re already showing warning signs, there’s hope for you! Improve your daily oral hygiene efforts and make an appointment with your dentist. Your dentist can do deep cleanings to remove buildup beneath the gum line and help you get your gums back on track toward health.
How Gum Disease and Alzheimers are Linked
Who would have ever thought that an issue of the brain could be linked to an infection of the gums? That is precisely what scientists and researchers have recently concluded. Gum disease and Alzheimer’s are intimately linked thanks to the sharing of specific bacteria.
You may have noticed that one thing both Alzheimer’s and gum disease have in common is plaque. When you have too much plaque buildup in your mouth, that bacteria can lead to a toxic accumulation of proteins in your brain. The bacteria culprit found in both gum infections and Alzheimer’s patients is called Porphyromonas gingivalis.
This nasty little bacterium is the precursor to gum disease and is found in higher concentrations in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients. It is currently believed that the increased presence of p. gingivalis leads to higher production of Beta-amyloid, which is one of the markers present in Alzheimer’s patients. The study also found an increased level of toxic enzymes called gingipains, which are also linked to p. gingivalis.
With such findings, the researchers involved have been able to speculate on and recommend groundbreaking new treatments for those exhibiting early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These results so far have been revolutionary in giving doctors a whole new avenue to approach attacking this disease.
Findings of the Study
The study was conducted on rodents but has huge implications for ongoing Alzheimer’s research. After finding the connection between the gum infection and the brain, researchers were able to conduct a clinical trial that is showing great promise.
Researchers found a compound that inhibits the production of gingipains. In clinical trials, volunteers who have Alzheimer’s have been given the compound, known as COR388, and have noted a marked reduction in the appearance of gingipains in the brain.
Alzheimer’s afflicts more than 5.5 million people in the United States every year. It is a high profile disease that has received enormous funding and is the pet project of politicians and celebrities alike. However, thus far the study and treatment of the disease has been dishearteningly slow.
The findings put forth by these researchers that show a causal link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s is promising in terms of the new research opportunities, treatment therapies, and clinical trials that it can yield. It’s also an exciting development for the dental community as it’s a new avenue that dental professionals can help patients with preventative measures.
How To Protect Yourself
Alzheimer’s has many causes. Some additional causes include:
- Environmental factors
- Lifestyle factors
While researchers can’t say definitively that there is one cause of Alzheimer’s. The link between Alzheimer’s and gum infections is one place that people have a level of control over when it comes to seeking out preventative treatment.
Because Alzheimer’s does not generally affect people younger than age 65, you have a long time to get your oral health care routine under control. Even if you are already showing signs of gingivitis or periodontitis, you can still treat these conditions and reduce your overall risk for developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
To start, it is imperative that you see your dentist for routine exams, checkups, and cleanings at least twice a year. Six months is generally a good rule of thumb for the amount of time between visits.
Your dental hygienist can check your gums for signs of gingivitis and periodontitis. X-rays can also shed light on any bone loss that you may have experienced on account of untreated periodontitis.
At home, you must brush, floss, and use mouthwash twice a day at least. If you’re already showing signs of gum infection, consider doing this after every meal. Even if you are at work and don’t have access to your regular toothbrush, many travel options can fit in a briefcase or purse. You can also leave a small travel-sized container of mouthwash.
Remember, if you already have gum disease, you can treat it and reverse it by simply making a greater effort to keep good oral hygiene habits. Your dentist can also recommend a variety of treatments that will help.
Your dental team will generally start by deep cleaning your teeth and gums. This can constitute several visits. For more advanced cases, prescription mouthwashes and other medications can help. But for extremely severe cases of periodontitis, you may need to undergo flap surgery.
Keep in mind, however, no matter how well you take care of your teeth and gums, if you have other risk factors, it is still possible to develop Alzheimer’s. However, good oral hygiene is one area you can check off in reducing your risk of contracting this disease.
Make an Appointment with Your Dentist
Gum disease and Alzheimer’s are a compelling new area of study for those working to eradicate this horrible disease. While there are many causes and risk factors that ultimately determine whether or not a person will develop Alzheimer’s, keeping your gums and teeth healthy is something firmly in your control. Take charge of your oral health by brushing and flossing twice a day and don’t skip your yearly dental exams and cleanings.
Make an appointment today with one of our caring doctors at Ingenious Dentistry. Your dentist will do diagnostic tests to determine the health of your gums and then provide advice and resources to help you keep your tissue healthy. Regular cleanings will also help stop problems before they get started.
Contact our clinic to set up an appointment to see a dentist or come in for a routine cleaning. We look forward to helping you take control of your oral health.
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