Periodontitis is one of the most common dental issues that lead to tooth loss in severe cases. Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease which damages the soft tissue and destroys the underlying bone that supports the teeth. Often the periodontal disease is linked to increased risk of developing diabetes, osteoporosis, pneumonia, coronary heart disease, and even cancer.
However, recent studies have shown that periodontitis may be one of the risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s, one of the leading causes of disability in older adults. (1) Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and one of the most common reasons for dementia. The symptoms include memory loss, disorientation, behavioral changes, confusion, and in advanced stages, difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and walking.
Exposure to inflammatory disease early in life from ailments such as periodontitis quadruples the risk of developing dementia. This data was revealed in the First Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia.
A research done in South Korea established that people above 50 years of age with chronic periodontitis had a 6% higher risk for Alzheimer’s as compared to those without periodontitis. This estimation remained true even after controlling lifestyle behavior such as smoking, consumption of alcohol, and the degree of physical exercise. (2)
The origin of this correlation is still unknown. There is no clear evidence of periodontitis directly causing Alzheimer’s or Alzheimer’s predisposing to a higher risk of developing periodontitis. Although this topic is debatable, on-going studies are focusing on the prevention and treatment of chronic periodontitis and its effect on the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The connection between Periodontitis and Alzheimer’s
The mechanism of periodontal action on the brain is yet unclear. However, the main reason behind this connection is chronic bony inflammation of the jaw caused during the periodontal breakdown.
This bony inflammation leads to systemic inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain. As a consequence, oxidative stress is developed in the blood vessels, which produce toxic free radicals as by-products. (3)
Additionally, clinical studies have revealed the presence of bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patient. However, it is not the bacteria that cause direct neurological damage.
The brain has a defensive mechanism against infection. In this, the brain produces antimicrobial peptides called beta-amyloid to protect the brain tissue from P. gingivalis.
The severe response of the brain to the infection producing P. gingivalis causes over-accumulation of beta-amyloid, leading to the formation of plaques involved in Alzheimer’s disease. (4)
Alzheimer’s is a complex disease, and many other factors need to be considered while contemplating its cause, for example, age, gender, and genetic predisposition.
As for dental hygiene, there is no apparent cause and effect between periodontal disease and dementia.
Moreover, periodontal disease is linked with other conditions like stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.
Therefore, individuals who are suffering from gum inflammation or poor oral hygiene should get it treated in any case.
The route to better health is through the mouth. Therefore, it is essential to take good care of your oral health despite having any oral ailments.
Brush your teeth twice daily and floss once in a day to remove the plaque from the tooth surface.
Strong teeth and healthy gums will significantly reduce the incidence of inflammatory disease and its consequences.