The Link between Gum Inflammation and Alzheimer’s
Most people are well aware that poor dental hygiene can lead to a number of problems, including bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. Even so, many people are not aware that not brushing one’s teeth and poor dental hygiene habits could also have more far-reaching consequences, including impacting your overall health.
New research has found that periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, could actually increase the risk of developing cognitive dysfunction, which is typically associated with Alzheimer’s. Not only is there an increased risk of developing the disease in individuals who are already suffering from some type of cognitive impairment, but also in healthy individuals. A study from NYU found that inflammation of the gums could be a contributing factor to neurodegeneration, brain inflammation, and Alzheimer’s disease. The study included the examination of 20 years of data supporting the potential for a link between Alzheimer’s and gum disease. A previous study found that patients with Alzheimer’s had much higher levels of inflammatory molecules and antibodies associated with gum disease than did healthy individuals.
Gum Disease, Oral Hygiene, and Alzheimer’s Disease
Among the biggest threats of improper dental hygiene is that it allows bacteria to build up inside the mouth. It is this bacteria that is believed to play a significant role in creating changes within the brain that lead to symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s, such as failing memory and confusion. Currently, researchers believe that repeated exposure of the brain to debris and bacteria to the gums, combined with subsequent immune responses could result in potential memory loss and nerve cell death. This makes proper dental hygiene and regular dental visits throughout an individual’s life far more important than we might have at first realized. Not only is such proper care vital for good oral health, but it could also be vital for good overall health, including healthy cognitive function.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America reports that the disease is a progressive degenerative disorder that causes memory loss by attacking the nerve cells or neurons in the brain. Other common symptoms include behavioral changes, and impaired thinking and language skills. Contrary to popular opinion, the symptoms caused by this disease are not simply a normal part of the aging process. According to the latest statistics, one in three people could develop the disease.
Helping Those With Alzheimer’s
Not only is proper oral hygiene important in healthy individuals, but it is also critical in helping to keep patients already suffering from Alzheimer’s healthy and comfortable. Older individuals, in particular, are often at a greater risk for dental issues that can make it difficult to swallow, chew, or speak. Such problems may also cause pain. For individuals who may forget how to keep their dentures clean or to brush their teeth, such issues could be even more common.
Dental issues can be even more dangerous for patients with Alzheimer’s. For instance, if a patient is not able to chew properly, he or she could easily choke. He or she may also experience difficulty in eating a sufficient amount of nutritious food due to dental problems. While cavities can be painful for anyone, patients with Alzheimer’s might not be able to communicate that pain. Nutritional deficiencies could also hasten the disease’s progress.
For individuals who still have their teeth, it is vital to ensure that brushing is a part of their daily routine. Caregivers may find it helpful to brush their own teeth in front of the patient in order to assist them in remembering the proper way to brush. It may be necessary to offer to guide a patient’s hand as he or she brushes. A toothbrush with an extra thick handle can be beneficial for patients who experience difficulty in gripping the toothbrush.
Bacteria typically leave the mouth and enter the brain along two routes, using their movement capability. One of the paths is along the nerves connecting the roots of the teeth and the brain. A secondary path, although more indirect, involves entering the brain through the blood circulation system. Patients with bleeding gums, due to gum disease, could be at an even greater risk because such bacteria is susceptible to entering the bloodstream whenever the individual eats or brushes his or her teeth.
How Can We Prevent Complications?
What can you do to prevent the risk of Alzheimer’s in yourself and loved ones? Proper dental hygiene and regular dental visits are essential. Without proper dental hygiene, bacteria can live inside the mouth and form plaque, which can lead to the development of cavities. Over time, plaque can also cause gingivitis, which can result in the development of periodontal or gum disease. In order to prevent this from happening and keep your mouth clean, it is necessary to practice good oral hygiene on a daily basis.
Plaque is the sticky layer that forms on the teeth, often in areas of where toothbrushes are not able to reach. Many of the foods that you consume can play a contributing role in the development of bacteria in the mouth by producing acids. This is particularly true of sugary foods, but there are also many other foods that can cause problems, including starches, such as crackers, bread, and cereal. Along with producing acid, plaque can also cause irritation to the gums, which can make them sensitive and more prone to bleeding. Over time, this can lead to gum disease, which can cause the gums to begin to pull away from the teeth. Once that occurs, pockets may form along the edges of the gum, which can become filled with bacteria and inflammation. Left untreated, the bones supporting the teeth could eventually become destroyed, leading to tooth loss.
Brushing and flossing on a daily basis is the best way to remove plaque. It should be kept in mind that brushing, while important, will only remove plaque from the surfaces of the teeth. A soft bristled brush should be used to brush twice daily. It’s also important to make certain that the toothbrush you use will easily fit inside your mouth and give you access to all areas of your mouth. Choice of toothpaste is also important. Look for an antimicrobial toothpaste that contains fluoride.
Are You Brushing Correctly?
According to the American Dental Association, the best way to brush is to hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and brush the toothbrush in a gentle back and forth motion. Begin by brushing the outer surfaces of the teeth and then move to the inner surfaces of the teeth before finally cleaning the chewing surfaces of the teeth. The tip of the toothbrush should be used to clean along the inside surfaces of the teeth. Many toothbrushes now also include a special surface for brushing the tongue, which is important for freshening your breath and removing bacteria.
To reach areas of the mouth where a toothbrush is not able to reach, make sure you use interdental cleaners or floss. The best way to floss is to guide the floss between the teeth. Exercise care while using a gentle rubbing motion. Do not floss too hard as this could damage your gums.
A mouth rinse can also be a helpful addition to daily flossing and brushing. Finally, remember to schedule regular checkups with your dentist.
Proper dental hygiene can help to keep your breath fresh, prevent dental decay, and possibly even protect your cognitive function.