The hidden world of the digestive tract, beginning with the mouth, is populated by a vastly diverse group of microorganisms. Many of these microbes are critical for our good health, but in unhealthy conditions, disease-causing microbes may flourish and cause health problems in other parts of the body.
In the study, brain tissue samples from ten deceased people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease were treated with antibodies (immune system proteins) that specifically target Porphyromonas gingivalis, one of the bacteria that commonly cause gum disease. In four out of the ten cases, the antibodies accumulated on surfaces of specialized immune cells of the brain, suggesting that the bacterium P. gingivalis had been in the brain. The antibodies did not accumulate in any of the brain tissue samples from ten deceased people without Alzheimer’s disease.
"These results indicate that the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients is at greater risk of secondary infection from the periodontal pathogen, P. gingivalis, which has long been implicated in chronic and severe adult periodontitis [gum disease],” the study’s authors said. They proposed that this type of brain infection could trigger chronic inflammation, which could speed the progression of memory loss and other Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
Although these findings do not establish a clear link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease, it does add to the growing body of evidence that gum disease–causing bacteria may play a role in memory loss and dementia. Previous studies have found connections between gum disease and other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Preventing and managing gum disease will help you keep your teeth longer and might protect you from chronic inflammatory diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some ways to keep your gums healthy and strong:
(J Alzheimers Dis 2013;36:665–77)
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