By Today's RDH
Oral health is a component of overall health. Previously, oral health and overall physical health were seen as separate. Dental hygiene was not often thought of as something that could make a person healthy or unhealthy. If anything, good dental hygiene has often been seen as cosmetic.
New studies have emerged that prove how important oral health is to overall health. Now, new research has been showing that oral hygiene is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers at the University of Bergen recently published a paper on the link they found between oral hygiene and Alzheimer’s disease. They were able to use DNA evidence to prove that gingivitis makes people more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and makes the disease progress faster in patients who already have it.
The findings are significant. These researchers have identified a clear link between Alzheimer’s and dental hygiene. This study proves causation. Many studies only prove correlation. Correlation is when two things appear linked, but causation is more definitive. Researchers have found a correlation between Alzheimer’s and oral hygiene before, but the DNA evidence discovered by these researchers proves causation.
How It Works
When a lack of oral hygiene causes gingivitis, dangerous bacteria can travel from the mouth to the brain. There, the bacteria make an enzyme that attacks brain cells. The destroyed brain cells compromise memory, and eventually, this can lead to Alzheimer’s.
Researchers found the enzyme in 96% of Alzheimer’s patients. This indicates that bacteria isn’t the only thing that causes Alzheimer’s. Patients can’t protect themselves completely against Alzheimer’s by practicing excellent oral health. Brushing, cleaning interdentally, and staying up to date with regular preventive dental treatment are preventative measures patients can take against Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers hope to use these findings to develop new medications to treat Alzheimer’s. The treatment will counteract the enzyme and slow disease progression. Until then, excellent oral health is the only way to go.
Researchers have been onto the link between Alzheimer’s and oral health for a while. A 2013 study performed by researchers in the UK looked at the link between oral health and Alzheimer’s. The UK study also found that receiving invasive dental treatment actually may put people at greater risk. A 2018 study also showed a link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s.
When patients have invasive treatment, more bacteria are released into the mouth. It’s then easier for the bacteria to travel to the brain. Every time bacteria makes it to the brain, the chance of cognitive consequences increases. These findings underscore the importance of prevention. A healthy mouth is less likely to need invasive treatment.
There’s still a lot to be learned about the link between Alzheimer’s and dental health. Now that causation has been established, researchers can work on prevention. Also, since it’s now clear bacteria in the mouth can affect brain health, scientists may want to explore how oral health influences other neurological disorders.
Studies like the one from the University of Bergen are important because they prove a causal link, not just a correlation. As more research is done to prove poor oral health is the cause of adverse health outcomes, dental health will become more important. Soon, researchers may prove that regular dental cleanings are just as important as an annual physical. That’s what dental professionals have been trying to say all along.