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Failure to Care For Your Teeth Can Increase Risk of Dementia


The mouth is the “gateway to the body” and not caring properly for your teeth and gums can have major health consequences, including heart disease, diabetes and respiratory problems. Tooth loss due to gum disease may also be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have found that the presence of a certain type of bacteria associated with chronic periodontal disease can be found in the brains of patients who had dementia while they were alive.

The study involved 10 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Brain samples were donated for analysis through a program known as “Brains for Dementia Research.” These samples were compared with samples from patients without known disease.

The brains affected by Alzheimer’s contained a bacterium known as Porphyromonas gingivalis. This is usually found in oral cavities and enters the blood stream through a variety of activities, even normally healthy ones such as brushing teeth. The most common route is through invasive dental surgery. In the brain, the bacteria could potentially trigger immune system responses that release neuron-killing chemicals.

This isn’t the first study to link poor oral health with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Research from the Nara Medical University in Japan also found that long-term gum inflammation could increase the risk of memory loss. Another study from the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry found that those with dementia in their lifetimes had fewer teeth on average.

"Research currently under way at UCLan is playing an active role in exploring this link," says Prof. St John Crean of the School of Medical Dentistry, "It remains to be proven whether poor dental hygiene can lead to dementia in healthy people, which obviously could have significant implications for the population as a whole. It is also likely that these bacteria could make the existing disease condition worse."

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Dr. Sim K. Singhrao, Senior Research Fellow at UCLan adds: "We are working on the theory that when the brain is repeatedly exposed to bacteria and/or their debris from our gums, subsequent immune responses may lead to nerve cell death and possibly memory loss. Thus, continued visits to dental hygiene professionals throughout one's life may be more important than currently envisaged with inferences for health outside of the mouth only.”

The American Dental Association recommends brushing and flossing daily using the following techniques:

• Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the gums.
• Move the brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide) strokes.
• Brush the outer tooth surfaces, the inner tooth surfaces, and the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
• Use the tip of the brush to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, using a gentle up-and-down stroke.
• Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.

• Break off about 18 inches of floss and wind it around the middle fingers of each hand. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.
• Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion.
• When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C shape against one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth.
• Bring the floss back toward the contact point between the teeth and move the floss up or down the other side, conforming the floss to the shape of the tooth.
• Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum with up-and-down motions.
• Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth.

A mouth rinse in addition to daily brushing and flossing may also help increase the cleanliness of the mouth by reducing bacteria and plaque activity.

Journal Reference:
"Determining the presence of periodontopathic virulence factors in short-term postmortem Alzheimer’s disease brain tissue," Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2013.

Additional Resource:
Academy of General Dentistry