Humans have been practicing oral hygiene for about 5,000 years. Our ancestors used a “chew stick,” the precursor to the toothbrush by rubbing a stick with a frayed end against their teeth to remove food bits.
The first toothbrushes were crafted out of bone, wood or ivory and used the stiff bristles of boars, hogs and other animals.
The modern toothbrush uses nylon bristles in handles of plastic or bamboo to remove plaque and food bits to keep the mouth and teeth healthy.
The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day and flossing between teeth once a day to help prevent tooth decay.
This is good advice, but not just for your teeth…
It turns out there may be a connection between oral health and the health of your brain…
Read on to discover the link between your mouth and brain, and what you can do to keep them both healthy.
The word periodontitis refers to any inflammation of the periodontium, the tissue that surrounds and supports the teeth… also known as the gums.
It’s caused by bacterial plaque, a sticky, colorless membrane that develops over the surface of the teeth and tissue. If left untreated it eventually causes serious damage such as tooth loss.
In theory it seems easy to avoid periodontal disease: brush your teeth twice a day.
But surprisingly, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research reports that 17.2% of seniors over age 65 have periodontitis.
And 10.6% have moderate to severe periodontal disease.
Older, Black and Hispanic seniors, along with current smokers and people with lower incomes and less education are more likely to be afflicted with the disease.(1)
But what’s even more alarming than these statistics is the fact that, if left untreated, periodontal disease may increase the risk of strokes… heart attacks… and…
Gum disease could increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease
A 2008 study published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia determined that chronic periodontitis is a peripheral infection that elevates inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS).(2)
And as you know, if you’ve been reading this newsletter for any length of time, that inflammation is Enemy #1 when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Because your body is constantly trying to fight off the inflammation caused by the long-term infection, it wears down faster.
Neurons and cells decay before their time…
Beta-amyloid plaques build up on the brain…
Tau tangles begin to form, sapping the life out of neurons like a strangler fig does a tree…
And research shows that inflammation can eat away at the blood brain barrier (BBB).
A post-mortem study performed at the University of Central Lancashire in England and published in a 2013 issue of Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease looked at 10 healthy brains and 10 brains afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
They found gum disease bacteria in 4 out of 10 Alzheimer’s brains.
None of the healthy brains contained any of this bacteria.(3)
This led the researchers to conclude that the inflammation in Alzheimer’s brains degraded the BBB enough so that it became porous, allowing bacteria across the threshold.
And this discovery leads to an interesting question…
Does Alzheimer’s disease increase risk of gum disease?
A joint study between Kings College London and the University of Southampton found a correlation between periodontitis (gum disease) and the rate of cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, published in the March 2016 issue of PLOS One, aimed to determine if the presence of periodontitis in people with Alzheimer’s disease lead to an increased rate of cognitive decline.
They studied 60 older folks with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease for six months. At baseline (in the beginning of the study), the researchers assessed the participants’ cognitive ability, tested their inflammatory biomarkers, and a dental hygienist performed an oral exam.
Six months later these three tests were repeated.
At baseline the presence of periodontitis was not related to baseline cognitive status, but it WAS associated with a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline.
Periodontitis was also associated with a relative increase in the pro-inflammatory state over the six-month follow-up period.(4)
The researchers thought that gum disease possibly grew worse in Alzheimer’s disease patients because of decreased oral hygiene…
A person who’s struggling to remember the most basic aspects of their lives will most likely forget to brush their teeth twice a day.
People afflicted with the disease need extra help in getting proper and consistent oral care to reduce the rate of decline.
Good oral hygiene is important for more than just the health of your mouth… the ecology of your mouth can have far reaching impacts on your brain, heart and other areas of your health.
I think it’s good to use a soft-bristled toothbrush, especially if you tend to use a lot of force when brushing. The gums are delicate, and you don’t want to irritate or tear the tissue.
Make sure you and your loved ones are taking care of your teeth so you can take care of your brains… and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Periodontal disease in seniors (age 65 and over). http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/GumDisease/PeriodontaldiseaseSeniors65over.htm
- Inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease: Possible role of periodontal diseases. http://www.alzheimersanddementia.com/article/S1552-5260(07)00621-8/abstract
- Determining the presence of periodontopathic virulence factors in short-term postmortem Alzheimer’s disease brain tissue. http://www.j-alz.com/vol36-4
- Periodontitis and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0151081