In recent years, new research has continued to strengthen the connection between oral health and an individual’s overall health. At McKenzie River Dental, Dr. John Schilt, your dentist in Springfield, OR, wants patients to understand that a number of chronic oral health problems, including tooth decay and gum disease, have already been linked to such long-term health concerns as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Now a new study has found that poor oral health may also contribute to the development of cognitive problems as well.
According to researchers at the University of Central Lancashire’s School of Medicine and Dentistry in the United Kingdom, gum disease and poor oral health may increase a person’s risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
While previous research has suggested a possible connection between dementia and oral health, this latest study marks the first successful attempt to identify a specific type of bacteria related to gum disease in the brain.
The Mouth/Brain Connection
As part of the study, researchers examined donated brain samples of 10 individuals who suffered from dementia and 10 who did not show any signs of decreased brain function. Upon examination of the brain tissue, researchers discovered the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis in the samples of four of the individuals who suffered from dementia.
While still in the early stages of examination, researchers suspect that this bacteria may contribute to the changes in brain function that occur in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which causes symptoms such as impaired memory and confusion.
Daily activities such as brushing and eating, coupled with some types of dental care procedures, could allow oral bacteria to enter the brain, according to researchers. To explain the connection between oral bacteria and dementia, researchers are working under the theory that repeated exposure to debris and/or bacteria from the gums may trigger a subsequent immune response that causes memory loss and the potential death of nerve cells in the brain.
Researchers speculate that if this link is proven conclusively, regular trips to the dentist may prove instrumental in protecting mental health and brain function. Furthermore, if future research determines whether P. gingivalis can be used as a marker through a routine blood test, the bacteria may serve as a means to predict Alzheimer’s disease in at-risk patients.
Further Research Required
For now, researchers caution that it still remains to be determined whether poor oral hygiene increases an individual’s risk of developing dementia, or whether oral bacteria contributes to worsen preexisting conditions that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
In reaction to the study, the Alzheimer’s Society –a global organization dedicated to the study and treatment of the disease- urged further study into the link between inflammation caused by factors such as poor oral hygiene and dementia. Considering that the number of individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s is expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years, organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Society have championed the study of any and all potential causes of the disease.
Additional research has suggested that infections, including oral infections, may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This type of data strongly suggests that practicing quality oral hygiene and regularly scheduling dental checkups with a dentist remain a vital to enjoying a lifetime of quality health.
If you have any questions about what poor oral health can mean for your long-term health, feel free to ask Dr. John Schilt, your dentist in Springfield, OR.