Taking great care of your teeth—with daily brushing and
flossing—may dramatically cut risk for Alzheimer’s disease, according to surprising
British scientists report finding signs of gum-disease
bacteria in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The new study adds to a rapidly
growing body of evidence strongly linking periodontal (gum) disease to greatly
increased risk for the memory-robbing disorder.
Byproducts of this bacterium, known as Porphyromonas gingivalis (P.
gingivalis), were found in brain
samples of four out of ten Alzheimer’s patients, but not in samples from ten people
of similar age without dementia, according to the study published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Multiplies Alzheimer’s Risk
commonly found in people with chronic periodontal (gum) disease, and can enter
the bloodstream through such everyday activities as eating, brushing, and
invasive dental treatments, and from there, potentially travel to the brain.
That’s scary considering that periodontal disease—a chronic
inflammatory disease of the gums and bones supporting the teeth—affects nearly 50
percent of American adults over age 30, and 70 percent of those age 65 or
older, the American
Academy of Periodontology reports.
In a 2010 study
involving 152 people, NYU dental researchers linked inflamed gums to greatly
increased risk for cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s. The study compared mental function at ages 50
and 70 and found that people with gum inflammation were nine times more likely
to score in the lowest category of mental function than those with little or no
The link held true even when such risk factors as smoking,
obesity, and tooth loss unrelated to gum disease were taken into account. The
association was also seen in people who already had impaired cognitive function
at age 50: gum disease made things get even worse.
The new British study discussed above adds to a 2012 study in which 158
cognitively normal people were checked for antibodies to gum-disease bacteria
in their blood (indicating exposure to these bugs).
People with the
antibodies were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or cognitive impairment
in later years than were people without the antibodies, suggesting that
“periodontal disease could potentially contribute to AD onset/progression,” the
What’s the link between oral bacteria and memory loss? “One
theory is that these pathogens may generate inflammation in brain cells
involved in Alzheimer’s, such as the glial cells,” says Bradley Bale, MD,
medical director of the Heart Health
Program at Grace Clinic in Lubbock, Texas.
“One of the hallmarks
of Alzheimer’s disease is activated glial cells, with high levels of
inflammatory molecules that lead to nerve cell damage and destruction,” adds
A toothbrush can be
a powerful weapon against Alzheimer’s, a 2012 study suggests. California researchers tracked 5,468
seniors over an 18-year period and found that those who didn’t brush daily were
up to 65 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed three
times a day.
To keep your teeth—and possibly your brain—in excellent
health, follow these tips from Dr. Bale:
Brush at least twice a day, in the morning and
at bedtime. Dr. Bale recommends using an electronic toothbrush for two minutes
and fluoride toothpaste.
Be sure to brush both the back and front of each
tooth, along with your gums and tongue.
Floss at least once a day, being sure to wrap the
floss around each tooth to remove debris and bacteria. An oral irrigator, such
as Waterpik, can also be helpful for cleaning between the teeth.
Know the symptoms of gum disease and alert your
dentist if you have any of them. The leading warning sign is bleeding when you
brush or floss. Others include red, puffy or tender gums, loose teeth, pus
between your gums and teeth, and a change in your bite (how your teeth fit
together), any of which should warrant a prompt dental checkup.
Visit your dentist at least twice a year for a
checkup and professional cleaning. Even
if you don’t have any symptoms of gum disease, the checkup should include
measuring the pockets between your teeth, which is done painlessly with a
dental probe. In the early stages, gum disease may not cause any obvious
Avoid smoking, which greatly increases risk for