Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia. It progressively degrades multiple aspects of a person’s health over time, from short-term memory loss to behavioral changes and loss of bodily functions.
Traditionally, Alzheimer’s has been thought of as only a brain problem that doesn’t affect other parts of the body. But in more recent years, researchers began to notice that many people with Alzheimer’s also suffer from tooth loss and periodontal disease. New evidence has revealed that a specific oral microbe linked to tooth loss and periodontal disease has a connection with Alzheimer’s.
Is this dangerous bacteria hiding behind your smile?
Oral hygiene is very important throughout your life. Not only for a beautiful smile, but also to decrease the risk of many serious diseases. For example, an imbalance of oral bacteria can cause periodontal disease. These bacteria can travel from the mouth into the bloodstream through the simple act of chewing or brushing teeth. Although some movement of oral bacteria isn’t a big deal, when you have periodontal disease, you have a constant supply of oral microbiota entering the rest of the body via the bloodstream.
A 2018 study was the first study to show that systemic exposure to bad oral bacteria results in the formation of plaque in the brain that accelerates the development of Alzheimer’s symptoms. The researchers used mice to demonstrate that DNA from the gum bacteria could be found in brain tissue, and a bacterial protein was observed inside their neurons.
Since then, researchers have delved further into human studies. A 2019 study compared brain samples from deceased people with and without Alzheimer’s disease and found that a type of bacteria called P. gingivalis was more common in samples from Alzheimer’s patients. This was shown by the bacterium’s DNA fingerprint and the presence of its key toxins, known as gingipains.
It has been found that the damaging migration of bacteria from the mouth to the brain can be blocked by chemicals that interact with gingipains. An experimental drug that blocks gingipains, known as COR388, is currently in phase 1 clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease.
How gum disease can wreak havoc on your health
Beyond Alzheimer’s, experts hypothesize that gum disease bacteria could be connected with any chronic inflammatory condition. Once oral bacteria enter the bloodstream, it’s possible for them to travel anywhere in the body. If they don’t get properly cleared by the immune system, they could cause inflammation in any organ. Researchers are investigating if this inflammation could be involved in diseases such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and cardiovascular disease. Studies have already highlighted connections between P. gingivalis and atherosclerosis, poor pregnancy outcomes, and various types of cancer. It’s clear that gum disease has implications reaching far beyond the mouth.
How to prevent gum disease from ruining your health
The best way to prevent P. gingivalis from growing out of control is by brushing and flossing regularly and visiting a dental hygienist at least once a year. Smokers and older people are at increased risk of infection. Nearly half of the U.S. population age 30 and older has some form of gum disease, and prevalence increases to 70 percent for those age 65 and older. Good oral hygiene practices and visiting a holistic oral care professional can help identify any disease and treat as needed, potentially diminishing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Natural ways to keep your teeth and gums healthy
Fortunately, if you catch your gum disease early enough, you can stop the progression and reverse the damage. Here are some of the best natural practices that can keep gum disease at bay.
Most oral microorganisms are covered with a lipid (fatty) membrane, which naturally attracts to fatty substances used in oil pulling. Coconut oil is preferred because 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is comprised of the antimicrobial constituent lauric acid. Lauric acid inhibits Strep mutans, which are the primary bacteria that cause tooth decay. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that recent studies have shown the benefit of coconut oil in the prevention of tooth decay. Simply swish a tablespoon of coconut oil around your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes and enjoy the many benefits.
Scientists have recently found that probiotics used in the mouth can fight several kinds of bad bacteria and may help restore a healthy balance to the oral environment. Researchers have experimented with chewing gum and lozenges containing helpful bacteria that can control plaque, inflammation, and the resulting oral disease. If you have gum disease or are worried about it, talk with your dentist about whether a probiotic like this might be good for you.
Since periodontal disease is an inflammatory condition, foods that are known inflammation fighters are important to include in your diet. An anti-inflammatory diet includes lots of green, leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts, legumes, and oily fish.
If a shiny white smile isn’t motivation enough, there are many other reasons to take good care of your teeth and gums. That daily brush-and-floss routine has never been more important.
-The UpWellness Team