Oral Health and Alzheimer’s Disease

For the estimated 3 million Americans who are diagnosed with the debilitating illness known as Alzheimer’s disease each year, tragic symptoms like dementia and memory loss are a way of life. Categorized as a progressive brain condition that causes patients to lose their memory and a variety of other mental capabilities, the disease – and its possible causes – is in many ways still a mystery to scientists.

But a new study from the journal Science Advances has yielded some new information that could help make massive strides toward a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Until recently scientists had noticed a connection between poor oral health and Alzheimer’s disease, but they by and large figured this link had more to do with Alzheimer’s patients forgetting or neglecting to take care of their oral health properly. The study, which was conducted by researchers in both California and Edinburgh, Scotland, developed and proved a new theory: Alzheimer’s isn’t causing poor oral health – poor oral health could be causing Alzheimer’s.

To prove this new theory, scientists studied two proteins: amyloid plaques and tau proteins. These two proteins build up in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and have been used by scientists as indicators of Alzheimer’s disease postmortem. Unfortunately, despite their presence in Alzheimer’s patients, before recently scientists didn’t really know what caused these proteins to build up – so they decided to find out. The researchers in the Science Advances study examined the proteins and see if they build up due to outside factors such as bacteria. They began by examining some common bacteria found in Alzheimer’s patients’ bodies. One such bacteria was p.gingivalis bacteria, the bacteria known to cause gum disease.

What the scientists found was that the p.gingivalis bacteria released the enzyme gingipain, which tangles the tau proteins found in Alzheimer’s patients. The amyloid proteins, on the other hand, are released to protect the body from the p.gingivalis bacteria. In fact, when mice were infected with p.gingivalis bacteria, scientists noticed that they had higher levels of amyloid plaques and more damaged neurons, proving gingipains are causing the damaged protein responsible for some cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, for starters, more studies need to be done to understand this connection. Researchers are in agreement that this is potentially just ONE cause of Alzheimer’s – in fact, people with healthy teeth and gums can and still do get Alzheimer’s. But it’s also a great reason to start ramping up your oral health routine. That means brushing twice a day for two minutes at a time minimum, flossing and visiting Dr. Lesko for regular dental exams.

To schedule your next exam with Dr. Lesko, please call 970-812-0355.