Most of us are aware that poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath – but not brushing your teeth could also have consequences for more serious illnesses.
In 2010, researchers from New York University (NYU) concluded that there is a link between gum inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease, after reviewing 20 years of data on the association.
The American Dental Hygienists’ Association recommends that we should brush for 2 minutes, twice daily.
Comparing cognitive function at ages 50 and 70, the NYU team found that gum disease at the age of 70 was strongly associated with low scores for cognitive function.
Although this study took into account potentially confounding factors like obesity, cigarette smoking and tooth loss unrelated to gum inflammation, there was still a strong association between low DST score and gum inflammation.
Analysis showed that a bacterium – Porphyromonas gingivalis – was present in the Alzheimer’s brain samples but not in the samples from the brains of people who did not have Alzheimer’s. What was interesting was that P. gingivalis is usually associated with chronic gum disease.
Also, there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that two of the three gum disease-causing bacteria are capable of motion (or “motile”) and have been consistently found in brain tissue.
These motile bacteria can leave the mouth and enter the brain via two main routes, They can use their movement capability to directly enter the brain. One of the paths taken is to crawl up the nerves that connect the brain and the roots of teeth. The other path is an indirect entry into the brain via the blood circulation system.
In a patient who has bleeding gums, the gum disease-causing bacteria will enter the bloodstream every time they clean their mouth and even when they eat food. “P. gingivalis is particularly interesting as it has found ways to hitch a lift from red blood cells when in the bloodstream and instead of getting ‘off the red blood cell bus’ in the spleen, they choose to get off in the brain at an area where there are no immune checkpoints. From there, they spread to the brain at their will. In addition, in older individuals, the blood vessels tend to enlarge and become leaky.”