The gum disease Alzheimer’s link discovered unexpectedly by British researchers highlights how important tooth brushing is for everyone. Worldwide, nearly 44 million people have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. An estimated 5.3 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is expected to triple in the coming years.
Finding a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s was a surprise discovery, according to Dentist Dr Mark Ide from King’s College London, reports BBC on March 10. “The Alzheimer’s Society said if the link was proven to be true, then good oral health may help slow dementia.”
The study, which was jointly led by the University of Southampton and King’s College London and published in PLOS ONE. was not set out to look for a link between memory and gum disease but rather examined people who showed mild to moderate dementia in regard to any inflammations.
Coincidentally, while taking the research study subjects’ blood, a dental hygienist also assessed the subjects’ oral health. “Their oral health was also assessed by a dental hygienist who was unaware of the cognitive outcomes.”
To the researchers’ surprise, the examination of the subjects’ dental health showed that “the presence of gum disease – or periodontitis as it is known – was associated with a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline.”
According to Dr. Ide, during the six-month research study, “you could see the patients going downhill – it’s really quite scary,” he said. Researchers did take into consideration that people with mild to moderate dementia might be practicing less oral hygiene, but the test results showed that there was more stunning information.
The body’s response to gum inflammation is likely causing the hastening of the brain’s decline because “higher levels of antibodies to periodontal bacteria are associated with an increase in levels of inflammatory molecules elsewhere in the body.”
The British research study that started out by looking for any signs of inflammation in dementia patients was quite small and only included 59 subjects. Out of the 59 people, 22 were found to have considerable gum disease while gum disease in the remaining 37 patients was present but less obvious.
The unexpected discovery of the link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s in the British study actually added to previous research studies which found that those who brushed their teeth less than once a day are 65 per cent more likely to develop dementia or other health problems than those who brushed three times a day. However, dental hygienists emphasize that it is not how often you brush your teeth but HOW you clean your teeth that affects your gum’s health – and your overall health.