Baby Boomers Beware: the Connection between Alzheimer’s Disease and Periodontal Disease

By Kathryn Gilliam, RDH, BA

People with poor oral hygiene or periodontal disease may be at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Periodontal disease is linked to a 6x increase in cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The sixth leading cause of death in the US, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has been researched extensively. Recently much research has examined potential associations between oral disease and systemic diseases, but few studies have investigated a potential link between oral disease and AD or dementia.

In 2006, a Swiss researcher concluded that there was a significant connection between Alzheimer’s disease and periodontal disease after discovering over 60 periodontal pathogenic bacteria found in the blood, spinal fluid, and brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Among those bacteria were some of the most aggressive periodontal pathogens: Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and the spirochete Treponema denticola.

Several biologically plausible mechanisms are proposed for a potential association between the two diseases. Whether as a bacteremia caused by periodontal pathogens entering the bloodstream through ordinary actions such as chewing and tooth brushing or as part of an inflammatory cascade, periodontal disease can affect the brain. The immune system response triggered by periodontal bacteria is hypothesized to kill brain cells leading to changes in the brain, which is typical in AD and related dementias. It should be noted, however, that because the etiology of AD is complex and multi-factorial, it is unlikely that any one mechanism is purely causal.

It stands to reason that improving oral health – preventing or controlling periodontal disease – can have a positive affect on brain health. As a practicing clinician, consultant, speaker, and author, I will continue to focus efforts to educate my patients, clients, audiences, and readers about the connection between optimal oral health and optimal systemic health. I salute those dental health care providers who focus their treatment on our aging population. What a source of pride it would be if we could turn the tide of cognitive decline and disease and assist our population in aging well and healthfully.


Contributor:

Kathryn Gilliam’s interest in the medical side of dentistry led her to years of advanced study into the oral-systemic link, including graduating from the prestigious Bale Doneen Preceptorship. Her company, PerioLinks, LLC, was born out of her desire to train dental teams to transform their practices to care for the total health of their patients through comprehensive periodontal treatment.

 

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