Oral Bacteria and Alzheimer’s: The Link

Imagine losing your short-term memory, unable to recall the names of those you hold dear. Or experiencing unexplained mood changes like agitation at night, or even the loss of basic bodily functions or the ability to properly care for yourself. This nightmarish scenario is, to some degree, reality for the nearly 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease.

While no one factor has been identified as the cause of this neurodegenerative disease, scientists posit that a combination of genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors lead to this form of dementia. Surprisingly, researchers have pinpointed one possible factor that could put you or your loved ones at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s: your oral health.

A Look at Your Brain

The human brain is a delicate and complex organ. While its anatomy is fairly detailed, one thing is responsible for nearly every aspect of its structure, control and functionality: proteins. These microscopic building blocks undergo a process called folding, which turns them from raw material into a 3D structure — literally building them into the structures of your brain.

Sometimes, due to a variety of factors, this process goes awry and the proteins malform during folding. One or two misfoldings in young, healthy cells aren’t likely to cause too many problems and can be dealt with by the body. Aging cells or those compromised by disease cannot handle the malformation of proteins, and an accumulation of toxins builds up within the cells. This misfolding of the proteins is the most widely accepted hypothesis for why Alzheimer’s occurs and is the cause of other neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease and the suspected cause of Parkinson’s disease.

Oral Bacteria in Your Brain

Bacteria from your mouth doesn’t just stay in your mouth — it can travel throughout the body. Microscopic cuts in your gums or mouth — such as those that occur from brushing too vigorously or biting down on your cheek accidentally — can allow bacteria to travel through your bloodstream, as can cavities or other dental emergencies.  That’s why those with gingivitis are at a higher risk for cardiac diseases, for example.

Preventing an accumulation of bad bacteria in your mouth can head off a number of other health problems, and it may also be the key to preventing or slowing the spread of Alzheimer’s.

How Oral Bacteria Harms the Brain

The bacteria studied and found to have a negative impact on the human brain, Porphyromonas gingivalis, are the ones largely responsible for periodontal disease and, as the name implies, gingivitis. As they go through their life cycle, these bacteria release toxins called gingipains, which have been found to amass inside the brains of those living with Alzheimer’s. The toxins wear down, degrade and destroy human proteins — a possible contributing factor to the misfolded proteins found to worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s patients.

How We Can Help

While the research is still preliminary and the definitive role of oral bacteria in Alzheimer’s is correlative and not causative, improving your dental health and oral hygiene has a number of health benefits and could be beneficial to those with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or those presently living with the condition.

A thorough cleaning can reduce the bacterial load in your mouth and prevent further issues from developing. If you already have gingivitis, periodontal disease or cavities, your dentist can work on a treatment plan to remedy these issues and keep you in better health.

If you’re interested in being proactive about your general health by focusing on your oral health, Maple Leaf Dental can help. Give us a call at 281-497-5558 to schedule your time today. Busy schedule? No problem. You can also book an appointment via email by clicking here. Your health is your number one priority, and we’re honored to help you look after it.

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