Researchers from the University of Bergen, Norway, discovered that gum disease plays a major role in determining the level of risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Dr Piotr Mydel, from the research team, explained that during trials, DNA-based proof that confirmed that harmful bacteria can travel from the mouth to the brain was established. Bacteria that are associated with gum disease produce a specific protein, which destroys nerve cells within the brain and affects the memory. Ultimately, this chain of events puts people at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The strain of bacteria in question, P.gingivalis (Porphyromonas gingivalis) is one of the primary causes of advanced gum disease and gum infections. It can cause long-term infections within the mouth, but research shows that it can also travel to the brain, where it damages the nerve cells. Approximately 50% of the population has this strain of bacteria, and around 10% are at risk of gum disease, infections, and according to this study, Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Mydel argued that the findings of the study do not suggest that the presence of bacteria is causative, but rather that the bacteria significantly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is one of the most common conditions in older people and it causes progressive loss of memory in addition to confusion and a gradual loss of the ability to recognise people and live independently.
The advice from researchers is to look after your teeth and gums, to see a dentist on a regular basis and to ensure you seek professional advice if you spot signs of gum disease, including bleeding gums, swelling, pain and increased tenderness in the gums.