Did you know November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month?
In honor of Alzheimer’s awareness month, I decided to blog about Alzheimer’s and its relationship with oral hygiene. Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease that destroys brain cells and causes memory loss, erratic behaviors, and loss of bodily functions. People can be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as young as their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s, which is known as younger-onset Alzheimer’s. This disease slowly and painfully takes away ones identity, ability to connect with others, think, eat, talk, walk or even find their way home. Did you know Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s estimated that there are more than 5 million people in the U.S. living with Alzheimer’s? This devastating disease is fatal, as there is no current treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s. There are some FDA approved drugs that temporarily slow down worsening symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, but this is only successful in about half the individuals who take them (1).
What happens in the brain to cause Alzheimer’s? Microscopic changes in the brain start long before the disease is diagnosed. The brain has 100 billion nerve cells and each nerve cell connects with several others to form a communication network. Each of these groups have special jobs that control our everyday function of thinking, learning, remembering, seeing, hearing and sense of smell. These groups work like tiny factories in your brain and when they stop working properly due to Alzheimer’s disease, the damage spreads and cells lose their ability to do their job. These cells will then eventually die causing irreversible changes in the brain.
Why is good oral hygiene important in relation to Alzheimer’s disease? There is still a lot of research to be done, but a study conducted by Dr. Singhrao in 2013 and 2014 showed that a bacterium known as Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) was present in Alzheimer’s brain samples, but not present in the samples of brain from non Alzheimer’s people. This was interesting because P. gingivalis is associated with chronic gum disease. The study that was conducted in 2013 was followed up by the same team in 2014 with a study using mice and the results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Singhrao, who conducted this study, said in his interview with Medical News Today that “there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that two of the three gum disease -causing bacteria are capable of motion (or “motile”) and have consistently been found in brain tissues (2).” These motile bacteria can leave the mouth and enter the brain via two main routes. The two possible roots are: they crawl up the nerves that connect to your brain and the roots of your teeth and the second is through your blood stream. The bacteria P. gingivalis enters your blood stream on a daily basis from eating, chewing, and tooth brushing but does not always reach the brain. If it does reach the brain, this bacterium can trigger the immune system response to release more chemicals to kill neurons (2). Dr. Singharo placed P. gingivalis in the mouths of mice and watched as the bacteria found its way to the brain. During the study Dr. Singharo observed that when the P. gingivalis found its way to the brain, the chemicals released by the brain’s immune system, in response to the P. gingivalis, damaged functional neurons on the area of the brain related to memory. Although, this research is still new and continues to be ongoing it gives another example of how your dental health is linked to your overall health, and reminds us about the importance of good daily oral hygiene and routine dental cleanings.
Additionally, there has been a lot of research done about Amalgam “silver” fillings over the years and there is no evidence showing that it is a major risk for Alzheimer’s. There was reason for concern because amalgam is made up of a mixture of 50% mercury, 35% silver and 15% tin and mercury in certain forms is known to be toxic to the brain and other organs. Many public health agencies, including the FDA, World Health Organization, and U.S. Public health services say that is a safe, strong, and an inexpensive material for dental restorations. We no longer do amalgam fillings in our office. We feel the composite “white” fillings are a better option because the material bonds to your tooth making the tooth stronger.
There is lots of research being done daily to help uncover as many aspects of Alzheimer’s disease as possible. The goal of all this research is to help better understand it and its effects on the brain that will lead to new treatments. I have close family friends and patients who have suffered from Alzheimer’s and it’s devastating to them and their families. I do hope one day they find a way to cure it, or slow down the progress of it. All I can do for now is make sure I keep the bacteria levels down in my mouth with proper homecare, inform my patients, and continue to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association to the keep the progress of research going. If you wish to donate or participate in one of their fundraising events visit their website alz.org for more information.
- alz.org (Alzheimer’s association)
- Medical News Today / Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease