Periodontal, or gum, disease can wreak havoc on your dental health, leading to tooth and bone loss, but the health effects can reach beyond your mouth. A recent study just showed that periodontal disease may affect the human brain and could possibly be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
At our San Francisco practice, Dr. Nataly Vilderman and our team believe that patient education is one of the keys to great health, dental and otherwise. To that end, we’ve pulled together a synopsis of a recent study that uncovered a link between periodontal disease and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, released this year, was conducted by a group of 26 medical researchers who specialize in both periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease. After evaluating the brain tissue, spinal fluid, and saliva of 53 deceased and living Alzheimer’s patients, the group discovered the presence of P. gingivalis, the bacteria associated with gum disease, at alarming levels. In fact, 96% of the tissue samples contained higher levels of gingipains, which are the destructive enzymes secreted by P. gingivalis.
To better understand what this science means, it’s helpful to step back and take a look at how Alzheimer’s disease affects your brain. Under normal circumstances, the neurons in your brain contain internal structures called microtubules, which enable cell support and function. Your brain also contains a protein called tau, which attaches to and stabilizes these microtubules.
In Alzheimer’s patients, the tau protein molecules detach from the microtubules and clump together, interfering with how your brain cells work together.
This study found that the gingipains related to periodontal disease have a negative impact on tau and were considered “neurotoxic” to this valuable protein. In other words, gingipains are a potential catalyst for disrupting how your tau is functioning.
The result is that the presence of P. gingivalis and their associated gingipains set off an immunoreactivity response that led to neuroinflammation and progressive dementia.
The study supported a link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease, but its larger goal was to come up with a solution. While the results are still in the early phases, the good news is that the researchers were able to test a gingipain inhibitor in mice that showed some promise in modifying Alzheimer’s disease.
As ongoing research is conducted, we can do our part, in the meantime, by catching periodontal disease in its early stages and clearing up the bacterial infection before it leads to poor dental — and brain — health.
And there’s great news on that front, as we have the tools to reverse both early and more advanced gum disease through several procedures, from regular cleanings to more aggressive rooting and scaling procedures. We also offer an innovative surgical technique called pinhole surgery, which is a highly effective, scalpel-free treatment for advanced periodontal disease.
If you’d like to learn more about the widespread impact that periodontal disease can have on your health, including its role in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, please give us a call. Or you can use the online scheduling tool to set up an appointment.