Alzheimer’s Disease is a public health crisis in the United States, and according to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans over the age of 65 are currently living with Alzheimer’s Disease. What’s worse is that this number is expected to climb to over 13 million Americans by the year 2050. And while other major diseases such as heart disease have seen deaths decrease by as much as 7.3 percent between the years 2000 and 2019, deaths due to Alzheimer’s have actually increased 145 percent. This included a 16 percent increase during the heart of the COVID pandemic.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are things we can all do to lower our risk, and one of these is something we should be doing anyway: managing our oral health.
Is there a connection between poor oral health and Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists and medical professionals have been seeing a connection between oral health and overall health for several years, but it wasn’t until somewhat recently that they started to see the connection between poor oral health habits, gum disease, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. In a study published in April 2021, researchers started seeing this.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study showing an association between the imbalanced bacterial community found under the gumline and a CSF biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease in cognitively normal older adults,” said Angela Kamer, DDS, PhD, associate professor of periodontology and implant dentistry at NYU College of Dentistry and the study’s lead author. “The mouth is home to both harmful bacteria that promote inflammation and healthy, protective bacteria. We found that having evidence for brain amyloid was associated with increased harmful and decreased beneficial bacteria.”
Can maintaining good oral health habits reduce the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s Disease?
Based on the results the authors of this study saw, it is believed that people who have healthier mouths and gums, and thus healthier bacteria in their gumlines, will not only have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease but their healthy gums may also act as a protectant against Alzheimer’s.
The results showed that individuals with an imbalance in bacteria, featuring a ratio favoring harmful versus healthy bacteria, were more likely to have the Alzheimer’s signature of reduced CSF amyloid levels. The researchers hypothesize that because high levels of healthy bacteria help maintain bacterial balance and decrease inflammation, they may be protective against Alzheimer’s. Given these results and hypotheses, it’s a pretty safe assumption that people who have better oral health habits, such as regular brushing and flossing and visiting the dentist regularly, will presumably have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
This is just another item in a long line of reasons to maintain good oral health practices well into your older years.
Older adults with Alzheimer’s Disease experience higher rates of oral health issues
It’s also important to remember that those older adults who have memory-loss-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are at a higher risk of oral health related issues such as tooth loss, cavities, and periodontal disease. Reduced cognition and dexterity can complicate matters when it comes to brushing and flossing. Those with Alzheimer’s Disease also experience lower amounts of saliva being produced, which is our body’s natural way of keeping bacteria at bay and our mouths free of food debris. This is also where problems can begin to snowball for those with cognitive disorders.
Oral health problems coupled with things such as low saliva production can lead to complications including aspiration pneumonia, which can be deadly if not treated. If you have a family member or loved one who is in cognitive decline or has a disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s so important to help and support them with their oral health routine on a daily basis.
The connection between poor oral health and Alzheimer’s Disease, and conversely, between Alzheimer’s and poor oral health, is very evident. And while brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly won’t cure or totally prevent these cognitive diseases from happening, they can significantly reduce the risk as we age.
We are learning more every day about the strong connection between oral health and overall health, and the positive and negative effects it can have on our mouths, bodies, and minds. Keep brushing, flossing, and visiting your dentist so you can stay as healthy as possible.