Ask just about any dentist and they’ll tell you: gum disease isn’t pretty. Starting out as red, irritated gums, when left unchecked, gum disease progresses into full-blown periodontal disease, which is considered the number one cause for tooth loss in America. But, wait! There’s more…and it isn’t pretty. As it turns out, gum disease hurts more than just your mouth. It can considerable damage your body and your mind.
Is Gum Disease Linked to Alzheimer’s?
According to a recent Norwegian study conducted out of the University of Bergen, researchers seem to have found a DNA-based connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. In many previous studies, gum disease has been linked to Alzheimer’s using statistical analysis, but no clear connection has been found until now.
Examining 53 persons with Alzheimer’s, researchers found an enzyme believed to be excreted by a gum disease causing bacteria in 96 percent of cases. The enzyme created by this bacteria can destroy nerve cells in the brain which could lead to memory loss. Previously, this bacteria has been observed moving from mouth to brain, which could prove an effective avenue of inquiry for continuing studies. The research team itself is interested in testing a drug that blocks these harmful enzymes in the coming year, in the hope that it can postpone the development of Alzheimer’s.
The Importance of Preventing Gum Disease
Gum disease is caused by an abundance of a specific subset of bacteria known as streptococcus mutans. These bacteria are already present in your mouth, as they help to breakdown sugars and simple starch before they enter the stomach, but when giving too much food, they can quickly over populate and begin causing problems for your teeth and gums. After attaching to the walls of your teeth, these bacteria form a biofoam that insulates them from outside bacteria, and allows them to feed, reproduce, and excrete an acidic substance which eats through our natural tooth enamel and causes inflammation in our gums. Eventually, the population can become so out of control, that these bacteria can escape from the mouth and enter other parts of the body. Although no clear cause has been agreed upon, this could be why gum disease is also associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
How to Protect Yourself
Knowing how gum disease occurs makes preventing much more simple: eliminating the bacteria’s food source. This part is pretty simple, and includes brushing and flossing daily, as well as regularly seeing your dentist for a checkup and cleaning. After 48 hours, plaque can harden into tartar, making it impossible to clean without a dental cleaning, which is why the American Dental Association recommends seeing a dentist once every six months.