Alzheimer’s Disease And The Oral-Systemic Connection

Infections in the mouth are now considered as potential risk factors for the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that inflammation – like that which results from dental disease like periodontitis (gum disease) – has a role in the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Inflammation caused by specific bacteria in the mouth cause an inflammatory cascade throughout  the body which impacts our systemic health.

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A dental infection can cause severe illness requiring hospitalization.  Such infections are more common than most people might think. Some months ago, one of our patients postponed an appointment during which a tooth infection was to have been treated.   This infection was found on an x-ray, and this patient had no pain or other obvious symptoms of a problem.  Several days after the original appointment we received a call from the patient that she had developed severe swelling over her eye.  This infection ultimately resulted in this patient’s being hospitalized for four days and requiring IV (intravenous) antibiotics.

Just to be clear, oral diseases which are more chronic in nature than the example above may not only be direct causes of systemic disease. They indirectly cause an increase in severity especially in those diseases which are known to be inflammatory in nature.  It is clear that eliminating oral inflammation reduces the inflammatory impact on many systemic inflammatory diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Although Alzheimer’s disease is generally not considered to be inflammatory disease, inflammation does have a role in accelerating the progression of this disease.

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CBS News’ 60 Minutes produced a wonderful show about aging                                   which presents interesting information about Alzheimer’s Disease.

Here’s a link to view this show: 

www.CBSnews.com/news/living-to-90-and-beyond/

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Research has identified five specific pathways by which gum disease and oral infections seem to influence the progression of Alzheimer’s disease:

1. Bacteria from the mouth can directly enter the bloodstream.

2. These bacteria cause systemic (whole body) inflammation impacting Alzheimer’s disease.

3. The bacteria P. gingivalis plays a role in the formation of blood clots and thereby cardio vascular disease and strokes which are both risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Germs from the mouth can travel directly to the brain.

5. Some people have a genetic predisposition which can increase the effects of oral inflammation

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To summarize, the ways by which oral infections and periodontal disease affect disease progression is not always direct. However, the link between diseases of the mouth and body is established, and the evidence is clear that maintaining a healthy oral environment is crucial to minimize the progression of various systemic diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.

If you have any questions about the oral-systemic connection or diseases of the mouth, feel free to call us at 908.359.6655 or contact us via our website at www.DesignsForDentalHealth.com