There’s a New Reason to Protect Yourself Against Plaque
Gum diseases caused by the damaging effects of tartar and plaque have long been a concern for many people. Periodontal disease, if allowed to progress, can result in bone loss and loosening of the teeth. It becomes more and more painful to treat as it worsens; skin grafts or even tooth removal can be necessary if gum disease is not addressed early on.
But scientists have also identified other consequences of poor gum health that extend beyond the mouth. A link has been identified between gum disease and heart disease, for example — scientists believe that gum disease can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream, going on to attach to fatty deposits in the heart’s blood vessels.
Connection Between Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s
Now, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton indicates another troubling connection between gum disease and other conditions. There appears to be a link between poor gum health and the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers assessed the cognitive capabilities of 60 patients in varying stages of Alzheimer’s, from mild to moderate. They also examined the dental health of these patients and tested their blood for levels of inflammation, measured by the presence of a molecule called TNF-alpha which is part of the body’s natural inflammatory response.
The results indicated that patients with gum disease experienced more severe cognitive decline and increased dementia symptoms over the six-month course of the study.
There are two potential reasons for this that researchers have identified. According to one theory, gum disease could allow bacteria to reach the brain, similar to the ideas about the connection with heart disease. The immune response to this bacteria could be damaging to healthy brain function.
The other theory looks at inflammation itself. Inflammation is a natural function of the body’s immune system when there is a problem such as infection or injury. The inflammation response actually gets stronger as we age, and it’s linked to a number of conditions including the hardening of the arteries, degenerative joint disease, and now Alzheimer’s.
To compound the problem, elderly people are at a greater risk of inflammation-causing gum disease. When people lose their teeth, they become more likely to develop periodontal disease because they may not be as diligent about tooth plaque removal and other oral hygiene habits. Disabilities affecting motor function can make it more difficult for people to take care of their teeth properly. Older people also may not have good dental insurance, and can easily slip through the cracks of our dentistry system.
What Can You Do to Avoid Gum Disease?
Armed with this new information, health professionals are calling for a greater focus on oral hygiene and gum health of the elderly. Spending more time addressing plaque and overall oral health can have many far-reaching benefits. If flossing, brushing, and visiting the dentist regularly can prevent heart disease and cognitive diseases as well as keeping the mouth and teeth healthy, we have plenty of reasons to prioritize developing these good habits.
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My name is Jeremy Rourke. I’m part of a family of dentists with my father, brother, cousin and nephew also being dentists. I won a University of Sydney Dental Alumni prize for being the top student in my year and graduated with Honours in 1971. I have been a Registered dentist for over 40 years. In that time I have created a few “firsts” in my efforts to stay ahead.