For as long as I can remember, I’ve been taught that not brushing your teeth can have major consequences. Not just like having stanky no-one-will-ever-kiss-you breath, but real problems–like increased risk of heart disease and stroke associated with gingivitis and periodontal disease. If that wasn’t motivation enough to diligently floss and brush every day, now there’s new science to suggest a very real correlation (not just causation!) between poor oral hygiene and Alzheimer’s Disease.
There are jokes about folks with Alzheimer’s being able to hide their own Easter eggs but the truth is, there’s nothing to laugh about here. If you’re not familiar with Alzheimer’s, it’s a form of dementia that leads to extreme memory loss as well as a decline in cognitive abilities. A person suffering from Alzheimer’s could be standing across the street from the home they’ve lived in for forty years and not know where they are. It’s a terrifying predicament for the sufferer and also challenging for the family and loved ones.
So you know that gunky plaque stuff that builds up on our teeth? That’s actually a biofilm made up of a mass of bacteria and other microbes that produce toxins. If you let that biofilm get out of control, your gums will start to get red and inflamed. This is known as the mildest stage of gum disease, gingivitis. If left to progress even further, little pockets will develop around the teeth and you’ll develop full blown periodontal disease. The bacteria in plaque can now get deep under the gumline, causing the pockets to deepen. If left untreated, you could be looking at bone and tissue loss and your teeth will eventually become loose.
One of the key pathogens in biofilm that leads to periodontal disease is called Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. ging). This jerk of a pathogen secretes another friend in crime called gingipains. It’s these two infectious agents that have been found in 96% of those with Alzheimer’s. They are able to enter the body through diseased gum tissue as well as during invasive dental work, like extractions and periodontal surgery. In the study linked above, mice were infected with P. ging and it showed “brain colonization” as well as increased production of components that are found in amyloid plaques, which destroy connections between nerve cells that eventually leads to dementia. It’s also worth mentioning that P. gingivalis was found in 100% of patients with cardiovascular disease.