Can gum disease cause Alzheimer's?

One of the latest medical stories to hit the news is the discovery that gum disease and Alzheimer’s could be linked. This may be a little bit of a stretch at the moment, as research into the two conditions is still in its early stages, but scientists think they may have found a strong connection between them that lies in a bacterium called porphyromonas gingivalis (P.gingivalis)

Old person with Alzheimer's hands

What’s the link?

The bacteria P.gingivalis has been proven to cause periodontitis, commonly known as gum disease. It has already been proven that gingivitis is more common in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, though this could be down to the fact that they struggle more with oral hygiene than someone without any cognitive impairment. However, new evidence from clinical studies funded by Cortexyme suggests that the link runs deeper than the mental ability to look after your teeth. Chronic periodontitis is a bacterial infection caused by P.gingivalis, and the new research seems to suggest that if left untreated, the bacteria may be able to start affecting the brain and its cognitive functions.

The experiment used mice to investigate whether P.gingivalis was a factor in the deterioration of the brain. We already know that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease show neuroinflammation that is consistent with that of an infection, but this study was dedicated to finding whether P.gingivalis could be the cause of that inflammation. Mice that were given the same “gum disease bacteria” orally were later found to show signs of brain infection similar to that of early-onset dementia in humans.

During examinations, the bacteria along with gingipains were “significantly higher” in the brain of Alzheimer’s Disease patients compared to those without it, but as previously mentioned, it isn’t yet completely clear whether this is a case of poor oral hygiene or a potential breakthrough development in Alzheimer’s research.

So can it be cured?

Although the infection is caused by bacteria, researchers have found that P.gingivalis is resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics such as amoxicillin and trimethoprim, meaning that it isn’t a simple case of getting rid of the infection with a course of antibiotics. However, the good news is that they may have found a drug that will eradicate it, a type of gingipain-inhibitor. When tested on the infected mice, results showed a positive outcome, halting signs of brain deterioration and reducing the number of bacteria. Whilst this is a positive step in Alzheimer’s research, it’s important to remember that the medication is still in its infancy and has many more trials to go through. Previous clinical trials with potential Alzheimer’s medications have proved unsafe for use in humans, but this is still progress and good avenue of exploration.

Snappy teeth and cake for gum disease

Worried about your dental health?

Whilst the research is still young, it’s never a bad idea to keep a good oral hygiene routine to avoid nasty symptoms and potential tooth loss later in life. Dental problems are common, and most usually start with tooth decay, which can lead to gum disease or chronic periodontitis. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of tooth decay, it’s a good idea to make sure you brush your teeth twice a day, cut down on sugary foods, and in some more advanced cases, you may need a prescription for Duraphat; a high-fluoride toothpaste.

Taking care of your teeth is always important, but if gum disease really does cause Alzheimer’s, you may also be saving yourself from cognitive decline.