Is Alzheimer’s Linked to Gum Disease?

Barbara recently went for her semi-annual dental cleaning and check-up and was told she has gingivitis (gum disease). She wasn’t surprised, as she has had a history of tooth decay and gum disease since she was a child. She always took care of her teeth, but she was told she is “more susceptible” to such dental concerns due to her hereditary disposition.

Barbara is realizing that gum disease could be the least of her concerns. She recently heard that there is a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, and she got nervous, as she has a history of Alzheimer’s in her family, as well.

The Connection Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Gingivitis

Gingivitis occurs when bacteria accumulates in tooth plaque, causing inflammation, receding gums, and bleeding. If it progresses to the more serious form, periodontitis, it can lead to abscesses and tooth loss.
A study, published recently in the journal Science Advances, suggests the bacteria porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis), the same bacteria that destroys gum tissue in the mouth, is linked to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

As part of the study, tests were conducted on people with Alzheimer’s and the same bacteria that causes the gum disease was found. Researchers also conducted tests on mice that showed that gum infection led to an increased production of amyloid beta, a part of the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was sponsored by the biotech startup Cortexyme Inc. of San Francisco, California. Co-founder Stephen Dominy is a psychiatrist who in the 1990s became intrigued by the idea that Alzheimer’s could have an infectious cause. At the time, he was treating people with HIV at the University of California, San Francisco. Some had HIV-related dementia that resolved after they got antiviral drugs. Dominy began a side project looking for P. gingivalis in brain tissue from deceased patients with Alzheimer’s, and — after his work found hints — started the company with entrepreneur Casey Lynch, who had studied Alzheimer’s as a graduate student. Other pathogens that have been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, including spirochete bacteria, which can cause Lyme disease, and some herpes viruses.

Researchers are further exploring the link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, and clinical trials are underway. Researchers are also working on a vaccine and a specific anti-toxin for P. gingivalis, but these are some years away from reaching the clinic. Until then, your best bet is taking the usual steps to avoid gum disease.

If I Have Gum Disease, am I Doomed?

Gum disease is very common. In fact, most adults have it to some extent and clearly not everyone ends up with Alzheimer’s. There’s still much we don’t understand, but it could be a question of how much bacteria are present, or how good your body is at dealing with it. Here are some things you can do if you are an adult with gingivitis.

Listen to your dentist, for a start. Most dentists advise cleaning your teeth twice a day and flossing or using interdental sticks to get plaque out from the gaps. See your dentist at intervals ranging from 3 months to 2 years, depending on the state of your teeth and other health factors, and his or her recommendation.

Stop smoking. Smoking makes gum disease worse and harder to treat.

A good diet and exercise regime reduces low-level chronic inflammation, which is bad for your gums and your brain. It may be no coincidence that general physical ill-health makes Alzheimer’s worse.

Regular Exercise: Research shows that physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 50%. But, how much exercise do you need? In a study published last year in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Research, researchers found that 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (that’s about 20 minutes a day) —the CDC’s recommendation for adults — can significantly improve memory performance after just 12 weeks. So, it’s a good idea to commit to keeping active and including balance, coordination, and strength exercises to ensure a safe and effective workout. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Eat Healthy: Published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, a recent study found people with mild memory problems who followed a Mediterranean diet, engaged in regular physical activity, or who had a normal body mass index (BMI) were less likely to experience a buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain.

Are You or a Loved One Suffering from Alzheimer’s?

No cure currently exists for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. The disease that begins with memory loss affects as many as 5 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As mentioned earlier, do what you can that is within your control, including taking care of yourself, including your teeth!
Medicaid Asset Protection

Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect your family’s hard-earned assets from this arbitrary discrimination in our healthcare system while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.